Moments of real beauty and mystery vie for readers’ attention with an overstuffed plot glazed in magic.
The island of Murano was (and is) the home of Venice’s glassworks in 1497. There, Renzo tries to learn his late father’s craft, practicing at night. During the day, he serves the padrone who took him in and worries about how he might support his mother and sister. The glassmakers of Venice are fierce and protective of their skills, even to the point of violence. One night, a silent, green-eyed girl, Letta, and her kestrel creep into the glassworks, and Renzo discovers she leads a group of ragged children, each with a bird companion. Renzo is deeply conflicted as he tries to both teach himself and protect the children. An assassination, a lost relative, intimations of witchcraft, an eye-gouging and high tide seeping into the doge’s dungeons are only some of the plot lines in a story whose seams and rough cuts seem rather visible. But there are some lovely moments, too. “You can watch the glass swell, grow bubble-thin and gossamer, and know that fear is making it lovely, fear is giving it shape. With glass, joy is the preferable medium. But fear is powerful, and it will do, when joy cannot be found.”
The language will carry word-loving readers past the story’s rough spots. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)