Accomplished poet and novelist Christopher delivers a debut for teens thickly woven with 18th-century Venetian intrigue and metaphysical magic.
Nicolò Zen, a mason’s son, possesses an enchanted ivory clarinet—acquired by his father through barter—along with an innate talent for reading and interpreting music. His rustic life on the tiny island of Mazzorbo is sundered when a malaria epidemic fells his parents and three sisters. Aided by a neighbor, the 14-year-old orphan survives his own fever and heads to Venice. After several uneasy nights on the street, Nicolò auditions for an orphanage’s esteemed orchestra, overseen by the Master, Vivaldi himself. The catch: Nicolò must disguise himself as a girl. Despite his tenuous charade, he befriends several girls and the cook but soon confronts the Ospedale della Pietà’s sinister backdrop of human trafficking and conspiracy. Nicolò’s first-person narration is delivered, memoirlike, from a mature perspective. This limits the in-the-moment impact of a teen boy’s adventures, which include sexual initiation and first love. Happy endings click into place for the good guys and girls here, with a sequel intimated even as Nicolò and his bride settle down in Modena.
As Nicolò morphs from street kid to orphanage crasher to Europe’s foremost solo clarinetist, abetted by a fascinating pair of magician brothers, engrossed readers should gladly ride the plot’s twists and turns. (Fantasy. 12 & up)