Title: The Undrowned Child
Publisher: Orion, 2010
Synopsis: It’s the beginning of the 20th century; the age of scientific progress. But for Venice the future looks bleak. A conference of scientists assembles to address the problems, among whose delegates are the parents of twelve-year-old Teodora. Within days of her arrival, she is subsumed into the secret life of Venice: a world in which salty-tongued mermaids run subversive printing presses, ghosts good and bad patrol the streets and librarians turn fluidly into cats. A battle against forces determined to destroy the city once and for all quickly ensues. Only Teo, the undrowned child who survived a tragic accident as a baby, can go ‘between the linings’ to subvert evil and restore order.
In 2011 An Awfully Big Blog Adventure ran an online writing conference. They didn’t do it again last year, or if they did it was during one of those long periods when I was off-line, but the point is that the year before I won this book. And I took a really long time to get round to reading it.
The book is set in Venice, and I know I’m biased, but it really is a magical kind of place isn’t it? It’s the kind of place where Teo, the main character, could get bopped on the head by a special book with pages that seem blank at first, but then tell you exactly what you need to know. In this version of Venice, Teo slips between the shadows, a place where she can inhabit the same world as everyone else, but also one where she can meet ghosts and hear singing, which she shares with a Venetian boy called Renzo, the only living person who seems to be able to see her.
If all this isn’t intriguing enough, there are lots of other mysteries. For a start who is Teo? To be honest I kind of managed to work that one out by myself, but I’m not going to tell you. As for the other mysteries, I never saw them coming, which is one of the reasons I so liked this book. Lovric allows you to guess some things, but then the surprises keep coming. Towards the end I did wonder if there a little too many loose threads, and I wondered if children would find it difficult to keep hold of all of them, but it wasn’t too overwhelming and I definitely wanted to read on.
I also loved the plentiful and imaginative characters, from the ghosts to the baddies, the cats and mermaids that all had a special Lovric touch about them. I suppose the one slight criticism I have is for the human characters. The parents come across as a little flat: loving and then sad, or self-involved and cold. Maria, a school-mate whose parents are also in Venice for the scientific conference comes across as much older than Teo. While Teo’s character is most definitely defined, there were times when again I was a little confused by her age. She goes through quite a lot in the book and changes as a result, but she also seemed to age a couple of years as well. Renzo, on the other hand, starts off as a Venetian cliché, but his development and change is really heartening. So as I said, this is a slight criticism, because the world building and plot is so strong, that the slight inconsistencies in character are not enough to stop you reading.
All in all, I really liked the book and would definitely recommend it. I’ll give it: