[Digging through the archives...]
Petra's father, a skilled inventor, is honored to be commissioned by the prince to create a wondrous clock. However, when the prince has the inventor's eyes removed it's up to Petra and her talking tin spider Astrophil to not only retrieve her father's eyes but stop the dangerous clock.
Why did it take me so long to read this book? It was a perfect blend of history and magic, marvels and discoveries. Petra was an intriguing mix of innocence and determination and her friends and enemies were a fascinating collection of characters. The mix of adventure, history, and magic is excellent. It's not quite a steampunk title, although it has elements of steampunk in the many metal inventions. It's not quite historical fiction, although it includes many legends and mentions of historical characters of Bohemia. It's not quite fantasy, but there's definitely magic involved.
I've been looking for a book to start off the 5th/6th grade book club I'm planning for the fall and I think this will be it! I've already got ideas for making our own marvelous marbles, dyed cloth, and more!
ETA: Sadly, no one came to book club. Sniff. However, this book has checked out steadily, although it's not a hugely popular volume it's intriguing and there are plenty of kids who are attracted by the mix of steampunk, history, and magic not to mention the gorgeous cover!
Verdict: Highly recommended. May you have better luck with your book club than I did...
[Revisited: Although I booktalked this a great deal, loving it so much myself, it just kept losing circulation. I was getting ready to weed it when I tossed it in a basket for a group of high-level readers in 4th and 5th grade and they LOVED it! So much so that I finally (many years after the fact) bought the final book in the trilogy for them! I can't wholeheartedly advise you to buy it, because the truth is that it did only minimal circulation for several years, but if you have the right audience they will love it!]
ISBN: 978-0374310264; Published August 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Purchased for the library