What a week! My free time seems to have disappeared completely over the past ten days or so and unfortunately this time the Book Zone was the victim. I'm back now though, and hopefully I will manage to get a few posts written over the coming week.
This being my first post of the month, it is time that I announced my Book of the Month for November. The rule I set earlier in the year was that it would be my favourite book released during that particular month. However, although I loved Andy Lane's Red Leech, the second book in his Young Sherlock Holmes series, there was one other book that completely blew my mind this month, but it was officially released on 28th October. This is one book that deserves a breaking of the rules though, and so my Book of the Month for November (and potentially a very strong candidate for my book of the year) is The Mourning Emporium by Michelle Lovric.
The Mourning Emporium is the sequel to the even more fantastic The Undrowned Child, a book I only discovered because of a mention its author got on Twitter in relation to a presentation she was giving on something Venice related (apologies for the vagueness there). Venice is probably my personal favourite of the cities I have visited, and I was intrigued by the details I read online:
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.
The Undrowned Child proved to be one of those sublime reads that stayed with me for weeks after. The author lives in Venice and her knowledge of and passion for the city and its history and mythology shines through on every single page - I'm not sure I have ever read another book where the elements of historical fact and the fantasy creations of the author were so finely blended together as they are in this one. In my opinion Ms Lovric possesses great skill in two key areas - the ability to produce a rich prose with great attention to detail without slowing down the pace of the story; and the other is her character development. In the first of these two books she delivers two fantastic main characters - the quirky orphan Teodora and the initially pompous and arrogant Renzo - as well as a vast supporting cast of colourful characters.
Fortunately, having only read this a few months ago, I did not have long to wait for more. Although the book works very well as a stand alone novel, Ms Lovric provided a couple of tempting morsels to suggest that there would be more from Teo and Renzo, and so I was overjoyed when a copy of the sequel arrived courtesy of the generous people at Orion, and even more happy when it turned out to be everything I had hoped for in a sequel.
Venice is in peril. Bajamonte Tiepolo is back and his baddened magic has spread across the globe, from the island of Hooroo in the South Pacific all the way to London, where Queen Victoria is dying.
And now two cities need saving by Teo, the Undrowned Child, and Renzo, the Studious Son of a Venetian prophecy. Time is running out as they try to unravel the mysteries threatening London and Venice. They meet mermaids and mourning children, a giant squid, a talking bulldog and the delectable, deceptive Miss Uish. But who is their friend, and who their enemy?
This time the action does not stay in Venice for long. The city is again in desperate peril, this time in the grip of a fierce winter chill, made all the worse for following on from a flood that has caused huge amounts of damage thrught the city. Many people have died already, leaving scores of children orphaned, including the hero of the first book, Renzo Antonello. Others are being struck down by a mysterious illness that puts them into a near death catatonic state. Renzo soon finds himself taken to the Scilla, a floating school of the sea for orphaned boys, and it isn't long before Teo joins him, cunningly disguised as a boy. Tutored by the kindly Professor Marin, the pair's first five days on board are a welcome refuge from the perils faced by their beloved city. However, this is very much the calm before the storm, the storm in question being the arrival of the evil and merciless Miss Uish, supposed representative of Her Majesty Queen Victoria's goverment, and it isn't long before Marin has disappeared and the Scilla sets sail, with the boys (and Teo) now mere slaves.
Again, Michelle Lovric demonstrates great adeptness at creating characters that the reader will both love and hate. Miss Uish is one of the latter - she is a truly cruel and detestable woman who should join the likes of Miss Trunchbull and Cruella de Vil as a character that readers spend the whole book looking forward to reading about whatever nasty demise the author has in stall for them. The story eventually takes our heroes to London, again giving the opportunity to flex her creative muscles and produce a host of very different, and very Victorian English, supporting characters from the ones we saw in the first book. The most enjoyable and noteworthy example of these is Turtledove, a talking bulldog with something of the Fagin about him, although far more kindly in the way he treats the waifs and strays in his care.
These two books are not easy reads; although Teo is a young character the style of writing will suit slightly older confident readers as some of the concepts and language is quite challenging. It also takes a while for the first book to get going, but the initial scene setting is an essential part of the story. Patient readers will be richly rewarded though as once the action kicks in the plot is fast paced and hugely enjoyable. The Mourning Emporium could be read as a stand alone book, but I would recommend everyone to read The Undrowned Child first - it was my favourite book of the two, although the sequel is a very close second. The closing line of The Mourning Emporium leaves things wide open for a third book, although I have it on good authority that there are no definite plans for this. I hope plans are made very soon as I would gladly drop everything to read a further adventure of Teo and Renzo.