By Michelle Lovric
Delacorte Press, 2012
$17.99, ages 10 and up, 448 pages
Get ready for cries of lackaday, as Venice's most reviled traitor returns from the ocean deeps and tries to crush the city once and for all, in this wildly imaginative companion to The Undrowned Child.
Once again it's up to Teodora the "Undrowned Child" of an ancient Venetian prophesy, her best friend Renzo "the Studious Son," and a band of pirate-talking mermaids to outsmart traitor Bajamonte Tiepolo, an assassinated noble.
This time, however, Bajamonte may be too formidable to stop, as he conjures up blood-sucking sea creatures, allies with two unscrupulous exiles and an army of ghost convicts, and expands his terror to England.
A year ago in a fierce battle on Venice's Lagoon, Teo had cursed Bajamonte back to death. But as he was sucked into a giant whirlpool, Bajamonte whimpered for mercy and Teo couldn't get herself to utter the final spell that would have destroyed him forever.
As a result, Bajamonte was merely cast off until a time when he could summon enough evil magic to strike again. To regain his power, he must resurrect himself in human form, and to do that, he must gather up his bones, now scattered in underwater graves.
In the chilling first chapter of Book 2, The Mourning Emporium, Teo stands at the edge of Venice's ice-strangled Lagoon on Christmas Day 1899, glimpses something underwater and screams. A vampire eel. It can only mean one thing. Bajamonte is back and he has begun his attack on Venice once more.
The night before on Christmas Eve, waves of ice washed over Venice's seawalls and pulled people out of their beds to their death. Among those drowned, Renzo's mother, and countless children whose bodies were never recovered. Yet it wasn't until Teo saw the eel that she realized this was no act of nature.
Then in a nightmare, Teo's sees foreboding images and her fears are confirmed. She knows the worst is yet to come. In the dream, a bat-shaped shadow (Bajamonte's ghost form) flies over the Lagoon as a ghost-ship with cobweb sails scoops up drowning souls in nets. Then a giant squid swallows children and Venice sinks under a hundred feet of ice.
Soon Teo learns that her adoptive parents, two marine biologists, have been kidnapped and an eerie illness, the half-dead disease, has begun to reduce Venetians into mumbling shadows of themselves. In addition, Venice's great paintings are vanishing -- as if the city itself were being erased from history -- and a magical book that helps them save Venice has disappeared.
Racked with regret for having not killed Bajamonte when she had the chance, Teo rushes to the mermaids in the House of Spirits for answers. The mermaids tell her that Renzo's been taken to a floating orphanage, the Scilla, and as Teo dashes off to join him, she's kidnapped and lashed to an iceberg with vampire eels inside. Though she eventually escapes to the Scilla, her reunion with Renzo is cut short when an evil English beauty, Miss Uish, commandeers the boat and forces the orphans to commit piracy.
News from shore is just as grim. Members of the Incogniti, a secret society that guards against evil magic, are being framed or worse, and now word has come that Queen Victoria in England is on her death bed and treacherous things are afoot there. England's good sea creatures, the Melusine and Sea-Bishops who aided in the last battle against Bajamonte, have been massacred in the River Thames and the Venetian mermaids say their London sisters have fallen into a sad and languid state.
In addition, word has it that Harold Hoskins, an exiled cousin of the queen, may be conniving to take over England after her death. Years ago the queen cast Hoskins off to Australia to run a penal colony on the island of Hooroo and he has simmered with hate and revenge since.
As England's woes mount, they reek more and more of the same baddened magic that's haunting Venice: ice is crusting over the Thames River, Harrod's Department Store has been raided of mutton jelly and ghostly street vendors have been wiping door knobs with a strange syrup. But if this the work of the evil traitor, then where has Bajamonte gone to? Is the coward ever going to show his face?
Now it's up to Teo, Renzo and the salty-talking mermaids to show up the mangy traitor and rescue his victims, but first it'll take a mutiny at sea and a visit to the bad ship Bombazine to figure out his sinister plan.
Along the way, they'll have to enlist a ragtag band of allies. Among them, London street urchins who eke out a living as professional mourners (the Mansion Dolorous Gang), a talking bulldog that would do anything for his "kiddies" (all the forsaken children he comes upon), orphan mutineers in an invisible ship, an uppity tabby with wings and pumpkin-selling spies from Venice.
Together they'll confront a hemophiliac spy, build an ark for overweight animals, and lob fishskin balls across a deck, and Teo will once more go Between-the-Linings to become invisible and use her magical gifts. Among them, her ability to see a person's handwriting written above their heads (and therefore a bit of their soul) and memorize whole books (so she can retrieve spells or maps for later).
Once more, author Michelle Lovric packs so many colorful details into her book that I imagine her fingers racing across computer keys to keep up with the pace of her imagination. She writes like a great Victorian novelist, with a winking sense of humor and such vivid, whimsical characters that you may wish you could cavort with them too.
You definitely have to be up for the fantastic, but the tale is dazzling and Lovric's dialogue, infectious. In fact, I found myself looking for a reason to talk like her salty-tongued mermaids, and let out a "lackaday" or mutter, "grits and gristle." This a series that's whisked me away and left me wishing if only it could be real. So I could pop in for a salty sea ride or get all blustery with the mermaids.