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Key To Rondo by Emily Rodda
Cover Artist: Martin McKenna
Review by Colleen Cahill
Scholastic Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780545035354
Date: 01 February 2008 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Family secrets are often interesting, especially in the case of fantasy books, where they can lead to adventure. In Emily Rodda's The Key to Rondo, the secret comes in the form of a music box, which hardly seems mysterious when the entire family knows it exists. But when two young cousins are thrown together, the magic of the box is revealed and leads to a rescue that will change both of their lives.

Leo Zifkak is not happy that his "least favorite second cousin" Mimi Langlander is coming to stay. This could be because she is bringing her dog Mutt and Leo is sure his cat Einstein will be annoyed, or it could be Mimi's abrasive personality, but mostly it is because Leo has just been given Great Aunt Bethany's music box.

Leo is fascinated by the family heirloom, especially after he finds the pictures painted on the box seem to be changing, slowly revealing a story. It is only when Mimi breaks the rules for handling the box that she and Leo discover the source of the magic.

A regal woman in blue appears, offering the pair all their fondest dreams if they give her a magic key. When rebuffed, the Blue Queen kidnaps Mutt and returns to the world in the music box. Leo has no intention of following, but Mimi refuses to abandon her beloved dog and Leo is barely able to grab onto his cousin as she enters the world of Rondo.

Rondo is a different world from the one Leo and Mimi know, one of an older time with woodsmen and cobble-street villages. As the pair head forth to rescue Mutt, moving through regions Leo remembered seeing on the music box, they are unsure who to trust. Names have more meaning in Rondo, giving clues to the nature of the person, such as Posey the flower seller, but that is no guarantee as to whose side someone is on.

It is soon obvious that Mimi and Leo are not the first Langlanders to have visited this world and that this fight has been going on for a very long time. It is also obvious that the pair must find a way to overthrow the Blue Queen, not just to get Mutt back, but to save all of Rondo from her cruelty.

The Key to Rondo is a good read, filled with lots of references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes, such as Charlie, a fiddle-playing cat, and a hypnotic gingerbread house that almost lures the children into its trap.Rodda does more than mention these, adding tweaks to the old stories. One of my favorites is Bertha, a watch-pig who specializes in wolf fighting.

Against this wondrous and magical backdrop we watch Leo and Mimi learn that family does matter and the oddball members might be the best ones to know.

The author has previously published several fantasy series and so it is not surprising that this is the first book of several books about Rondo. I look forward to the next installment and will enjoy not only visiting the magical land again, but also learning more about Leo, Mimi and the entire Langlander family, who have secrets well worth exploring.

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