We have our lead, Teo, a girl who, although she is supposedly Napoletana, feels a strong attraction to Venice. There is Renzo, a charming Venetian boy who seems determined to upstage her at every turn. There is Maria, Teo’s snooty arch-nemesis. Then we throw in the grand, mysterious canals and architecture of Venice; beautiful mermaids (yes!) with hearts of gold but mouths on them like rough-as-guts sailors; a Kraken-like creature who is poisoning the water that surrounds the city; a variety of ghosts, some wishing to redeem themselves, some hopelessly given up, some looking to wreak a little more havoc; an array of fantastic and mythical creatures (including winged lions and vampire eels); scientists racing against time to save their beloved Venice; and a mystery which Teo, with Renzo’s help, must figure out – how to stop the malignant spirit of Bajamonte Tiepolo from coming to power again and bringing about a repeat of one of the most tragic days in Venetian history.
The Undrowned Child is a fantastic mix of real Venetian history, fascinating mythology/fairy-tale and a subtle coming-of-age story concerning Teo, our heroine. The sub-plot involving her feelings for the infuriating Renzo is touching and beautifully done, her attitude towards their whole relationship spot-on for the no-longer-child but not-quite-teen. Teo is flawed and she and Renzo make mistakes in their mission to save Venice, but this makes their endearing characters realistic and us empathetic to their many dilemmas.
I was enthralled by just about every character in The Undrowned Child, whether they play a big part or small. Lovric has a way with characterisation and their encounters with each other are a joy to read. I loved Lovric’s take on mermaids, and her hierarchy of ghosts. Her ‘evil’ characters are genuinely scary and she creates some awesome atmosphere with many of her set-pieces.