Teodora, a bookish girl with a complex destiny, joins with Renzo, a Venetian boy, to battle the city’s impending destruction.
In 1899, Teo and her adoptive, scientist parents travel from Naples to Venice for a conference focused on the city’s shockingly dire problems. Rapidly heating water has brought sharks to the lagoon; wells are bursting, and children are dying of a hushed-up plague. Teo has always felt powerfully drawn to Venice. When a mysterious tome, The Key to the Secret City, clocks her in a bookshop, she enters a parallel Venice, “between the linings.” There, the evil exile Bajamonte Tiepolo is rematerializing, assembling a blood-lusting army of mutilated soldiers to avenge the city that destroyed them. With the Key their helpfully morphing guidebook, Teo and Renzo assist a community of protective mermaids and “The Gray Lady,” a librarian-turned–spell-tattooed cat, racing against Tiepolo’s dark triumph. Thickly plotted and encrusted with historical characters and fantastic elements (invisibility, an almanac of spells, transmogrifying statuary), Venetian transplant Lovric’s first effort for children is one grisly, bristling ride. A map, historical notes and a section entitled “What is true, and what’s made up?” shed light on the complicated allegory, but fantasy-devouring kids might well prefer the fast-paced horror to the historicity.
A teeming, action-packed fantasy liberally laced with Venetian history, for strong readers of both sexes; a sequel awaits. (Fantasy. 11-14)