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The Undrowned Child

by Michelle Lovric
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Orion Children's Books (Jul 2009)
ISBN-10: 1842557025
ISBN-13: 978-1842557020
• Sam Hawksmoor review

Take one adopted child call Teodora, add a cursed city under siege from vindictive ghosts seeking revenge, a huge monster slowly coming awake under the Venice lagoon, cannibal seagulls, anti-establishment mermaids, a vain friend and one handsome Venetian boy and you have all the ingredients for a spectacular adventure in real life Venice of 1899.

Teo is an unusual child in many ways. She has never believed she belonged in Naples and when she finally persuades her scientist family to take her Venice she feels she is coming home. She is unique in many ways. She never eats fish, she can see what people are saying as handwriting appears above their heads and she can tell if someone is pure of heart by just touching their chest. She finally wins the argument but sadly she is to be accompanied by a vain girl her own age, the daughter of her adoptive parents best friends. Teo and Maria (who loath each other) are left to their own devices in Venice as their families prepare to give lectures on how Venice could be saved from drowning.

Teo delights In a wonderful old bookshop (she loves to read) a heavy book falls on her head and she is hurt. The bookshop owner gives her the book to keep her sweet and her worried parents take her back to the hotel. The book is called ‘The Key to the City’ and the pages come alive. There is a girl on the cover who looks just like Teo and winks at her when she holds it. It has an inscription dedicated to her. Welcome to Venice, Teodora-of-sad-memory, we have been waiting for you for a very long time. Very odd.

Her parents call in a Doctor as Teo keeps seeing things and has a headache. He insists upon talking her to the hospital and that’s where everything begins to go terribly wrong. First a wooden statue moves and bleeds terrifying everyone, and then Teo goes missing.

There are posters all over Venice alerting people to the Lost Girl. But Teo is not lost or missing, she has become invisible to adults, fallen between the lines. The book begins to talk to her, guide her around Venice, begins to teach her the real city and the great threat to it. Everywhere there are posters stating

Gone Missing Teodora Stampara, 11 years old from Naples curling dark hair, green eyes, slight build, a large bruise on her forehead.

But Teo spots Maria with a young man with a suspicious mole on his head and a gleaming bewitching emerald. She suspects the young man of being evil but has no proof. Maris is in more danger than she knows but is captivated by the jewels and trinkets the young man gives her.

Teo has to learn to survive by stealing food and eventually she meets the boy Renzo who condescends to speak to her, despite her being from Naples and eventually she shares The Key to the City with him.

Renzo is the son of a Gondolier and is very proud of Venice and fearful of it drowning. Everywhere there are leaflets warning of trouble and that no one must trust the Mayor. No one knows who is printing them. The Mayor says Venice is safe but Renzo tells her children everywhere are dying of plague and being buried at night so the tourists don’t see the families grieving.

Together with the aide of the book they meet the mermaids below the House of Spirits and discover their purpose. Lussa, the beautiful Queen of Mermaids and her kin, have been waiting for the Undrowned Child and the Studious Son for a long time. They enlist their help to defeat the awakening monster below and the evil Bajamonte Tiepolo who once tried to destroy Venice in 1310 and has awoken and wants to try again. TAlong the way they also discover that Maria is a traitor and she is being turned into a dwarf!

The Undrowned Child is a fantastic tale, rich in detail, complex, scary and Teo and Renzo make a fine couple battling all, risking life and limb for a city they love. Along the way the history of Venice unfolds and we meet astonishing creatures, flying Syrian cats and the massed forces of evil gathering to murder every living soul in Venice.

(A word of warning though - the sequel set in London is not a patch on this)

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