Monday, May 23, 2011

The Mourning Emporium, by Michelle Lovric

This edition published in hardcover, by Orion, 2010.

Barely a year has passed and Venice is once again in peril. Bajamonte Tiepolo is back, and his baddened magic with him. This time his reach has spread from the canals of Venice to Australia and England, where the imminent death of Queen Victoria has left London vulnerable. Teo, the Undrowned Child, and Renzo, the Studious Son, embark on another set of perilous adventures. Among their encounters: the beautiful but brazen Venetian mermaids and their slightly less vivacious English counterparts; a ragtag bunch of street urchins operating under the guidance of Turtledove the Bulldog, exploits at high seas under the cruel decree of the evil Miss Uish, and Bajamonte Tiepolo’s usual bunch of miscreant minions. Can Teo and Renzo save their beloved Venice in time?
This is the sequel to one of my favs – if not favourite – children’s books last year. These books have all the makings of classics – they are so imaginative and intelligent and immersive, and at their hearts is such a celebration of story-telling. They are certainly literary. I do not think they are easy books to read, but advanced readers will be rewarded. That said, The Mourning Emporium did not quite reach the dizzying heights of The Undrowned Child. I think maybe the formula was a bit off. All the elements were there but sometimes just didn’t gel, or were a little forced. I also found myself quite sceptical at times over how the narrative panned out. A few times scenes ended too abruptly or easily. Also, some of the sparkling wit of Teo and the narrative voice was lacking. But overall, The Mourning Emporium is a winner. The detail, the intelligence, the ambition – I am quite jealous of Lovric’s creative talent.
Many familiar faces are back. Some lovely interplay between the feisty Venetian mermaids and the withering hypochondriac tendencies of the English ones. These scenes are where Lovric’s wit is at its best. The urchin-like street children are a welcome addition, although there are perhaps too many for any one individual to make any impact. Likewise with the Scilla’s orphan crew of young boys. Teo and Renzo are back, but I miss their snippy, sparky exchanges of the first book. There are some nice moments, though, with Teo and Renzo and Sibella, competitor to Renzo’s affections. Very cute. The bad guys are back, and they are the usual mixed bag of wonderful evil absurdity (although I did find the stereotyped Aussie crims a little too obvious, even if it was meant to be like this). Miss Uish is deliciously evil – a great character, fascinating and easy to hate. Once again, most of the characters speak with their own dialects, which is quite brilliant to decipher and read.
Lovric’s writing is high on dense description, but it is all very absorbing and worked in discreetly, adding insight and depth to the story. The writing is exciting and loaded with tension. I particularly loved the scene where Teo is trapped in a melting iceberg along with two vampire eels. What I particularly enjoyed, about the last book too, was that Lovric’s writing is not censored or dumbed down – there is cruelty here, and unfairness, and characters dying, but she doesn’t shy away from the darkness and I appreciate this. A couple of scenes I was left disappointed by – it felt like they were cut short or lacked satisfactory logic: swimming hundred of metre in arctic waters and then wandering around dank dungeons with only a passing thought to the cold? And the final scene, the climatic fight and resolution, felt a little abrupt. But as I said, there is still so much good stuff here, and so much fun to be had.
I hear that there is a possible third book, and The Mourning Emporium makes me excited to see this series continue. Best read if you’re familiar with what’s gone before. One of the best written series out there at the moment.


  1. This series of books sounds fascinating. The titles alone are so darkly evocative that I can't wait to read the actual story.

  2. Yes, they are certainly weird and wonderful. Quite challenging but so worth it.

    And you must be very excited - the big 'official' publication date soon! Best wishes!