Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Forbidden Vial

by Nathalie Laine

Pub Date: March 1st, 2021
Publisher: Manuscript

This debut middle-grade novel sees a young girl discover her heritage and battle intrigue in the Lost City of Atlantis.

Having grown up with her stepfather in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, 11-year-old Alessia moves to the southwest coast to learn about her long-dead parents. The only keepsake they left her was a special fork, set with a blue gemstone and an engraved sun symbol. Alessia takes the fork everywhere, so she has it with her when an overturned rowboat whisks her away to the bottom of the ocean. Atlantis, it turns out, is a sunken city state, and Alessia is an Atlantide citizen on her father’s side. Atlantis is a place of wonder, yet all is not right there. Alessia’s fork is an entry key to the Octopus’s Garden, a school for young Atlantides. But its emblem has been banned by the despotic Emperor after a group of ex-student dissidents adopted it. Alessia wants to find out more about her father but is warned against asking questions. Instead, she must investigate in secret, helped by her new school friends. Can Alessia get to the heart of the conspiracies surrounding her and the strong empathic reactions she’s suffered throughout her schooling? Laine writes in the third person, past tense, from Alessia’s viewpoint. The prose is simple and descriptive (though occasionally pushing the upper bounds of middle-grade vocabulary). The dialogue is well suited to the characters. The setting of Atlantis (and the wider undersea world “Nethuns”) is colorfully rendered, full of strange creatures and striking cultural adornments. Alessia takes these in stride; likewise the plots, plans, and machinations she uncovers. She is at once inquisitive yet unquestioning. Adult readers may balk at this, but Alessia’s naïveté—her focus on people rather than any higher logic in making decisions—seems very much in keeping with her age group. The author maintains a fast pace throughout and cultivates a diverse, likable cast of characters. For all the overt focus on Alessia’s journey of discovery, the underlying story is steeped in developing friendships. Young readers will enjoy this dynamic as much as the adventure itself.

Aquatic and exotic; a fun and fast-moving tale of friendship.