Tuesday 6 March 2012

Review: Talina in the Tower by Michelle Lovric

Magic is attracted to Talina, and Talina is attracted to magic, with startling results ...

Talina in the Tower is the tale of a girl who is more passionate than she is careful. Talina Molin, the daughter of an archivist, has earned herself the reputation of being the most impudent girl in Venice. When she's not campaigning for egrets' rights, or terrorizing the school librarian, Talina adores reading, cooking and magic. When she mixes all three together, she cooks up more than she had bargained for.

The story takes place in a sinister late nineteenth-century Venice, one inhabited not just by frightened people but also by ferocious foul-mouthed tomcats, argumentative rats and evil vultures.

Back in 2010 when I reviewed Michelle Lovric's The Undrowned Child I stated that "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". Michelle then followed that up with the equally spellbinding sequel to that book, The Mourning Emporium. Now, in 2012, we have her third story for young readers set in Venice, Talina in the Tower, and I am happy to report that it is just as magical.

I want to call Michelle's books a guilty pleasure, but I think that would be doing them a gross disservice as it implies that I shouldn't really be loving them as much as I do. Perhaps I should replace the word 'guilty' for 'the ultimate story-lover's', for that is what they are to me. Each one of these three books has contained a story that I have luxuriated in reading, the kind of stories I never wanted to finish, but when they did they left me feeling complete.

Talina in the Tower is not a continuation of the story told in the other two books. The story is set thirty years before the start of The Undrowned Child, but I can assure you that the Venice setting is just as magical and just as sinister, in equal measure. It tells the story of Talina, an impudent girl whose parents have gone missing, meaning that she has to live with her guardian, a child-hater who writes stories where children meet the most terrible of ends. However, Talina is headstrong and courageous and despite her misfortune she is determined to find her mother and father. 

As well as all of these qualities, Talina also has a great love of books, and (much to my great envy) is capable of reading two books simultaneously. However, one evening this leads to an unfortunate mishap as she is reading a book of magic whilst following a cake recipe and ends up accidentally turning herself into a cat. So begins her magical adventure as she escapes from her guardian's tower and ends up working with an assortment of eccentric and loveable characters to save their beloved city from the Ravageurs. These savage creatures, invisible to adults but looking like a particularly nasty breed of hyaena, are slowly trying to destroy La Serenissima, for reasons that are gradually revealed as the story progresses. In Grignan, the leader of the Ravageurs, Michelle Lovric has created yet another incredibly nasty villain who is intent on bringing the people of Venice to their knees.

Michelle Lovric has a command of the English language that many authors can only dream of, which can make her stories a little hard going for less able readers. However, I would not be surprised if many confident young readers choose to read her books again and again. Michelle uses her rich prose to weave a luxurious tapestry of a fairytale, populated with colourful characters, the dialogue between whom is another stand out feature of the story. It is at times funny, poignant, or menacing, depending on who is doing the talking, and what the situation is, and I would dearly love to see these stories adapted for the screen, with a cast of our greatest living actors to do them the justice they deserve.

As with the other two Venice books by Michelle Lovric, Talina in the Tower has a somewhat girly cover that I feel will deter many boys from reading it. I have attempted to encourage boys at school to give The Undrowned Child a go, but they invariably turn their noses up, thinking it will be a story for girls. Despite being a female main character, Talina is a long way off being a girly girl; she  is a classic adventure story heroine full of bravery, cunning and derring do. Like the other two, Talina in the Tower is a book for boys and girls who love great stories and I am determined to get more boys reading them.

Talina in the Tower was published at the beginning of February, and my thanks go to the nice people at Orion for sending me a copy to review. I can't express how much I am hoping that Michelle will continue to write books set in her magical version of Venice. The ending of The Mourning Emporium left things open for a third book, so I am keeping my fingers tightly crossed.   

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