Having long nurtured a deep fascination with mermaids and all things watery, the VV was delighted when, some months ago, she was recommended to read the work of an author called Michelle Lovric.
Lovric’s debut, The Undrowned Child, is marketed as a Young Adult novel, but the elegant depiction of Victorian Venice along with a complex and thrilling plot in which characters seem to step out of the page, is suitable for any age – particularly those who enjoy a good yarn, part historical, part fairy tale, spiced up with a liberal dose of ‘baddened magic’, along with ghosts, and vampire eels, and ‘salty tongued’ mermaids who love to eat curry and who run a subversive printing press – and the ghastly villain, Bajamonte Tiepolo, who Teo – our prophetic heroine – is destined to destroy when he seeks to ruin the city she loves.
Having so enjoyed The Undrowned Child, the VV was eager to read its sequel, The Mourning Emporium. Here, Teo must face Tiepolo again – but first, she and Renzo, The Studious Son, find themselves leaving Venice for London when trapped on a floating orphanage, converted into a pirate ship on a mission to aid Harold Hoskins, the pretender to Queen Victoria’s throne, who is also in league with Tiepolo.
Teo, Renzo and their Venetian friends are set against daunting enemies, such as ghost convicts from the Hooroo, and the beautiful Miss Uish who is truly memorable with her vile and sadistic nature. In fact, the cruelty of some scenes is almost too heartbreaking to bear.
Once again, much of the humour evolves from those pages where the Venetian mermaids appear, now in league with their London counterparts; more lanquid and far less feisty, reliant on quack powders and potions –and those shocking and comical remedies such as Dr Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People (Go to the very cause of the Mischief), and Lydia E Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound (Only a woman can understand another woman’s ills), were actually once available and sold in Victorian London: an example of Lovric's detailed research, so deftly blended with her narrative.
Once again, Lovric’s sparkling characters and plots are set in historically accurate scenes of nineteenth century London and Venice. But, for the VV – and perhaps this is predictable – the book really seems to come alive when the story moves to the London docks, where a truly Dickenson band of orphans curl up to sleep inside children’s coffins in a gothic mourning emporium –
THE MANSION DOLOROUS
The Family Mourning Emporium
Of Tristesse and Ganorus
All Vestments of Sorrow supplied and made to order
to the Nobility
And Families of the Highest Rank
Also to Those of Limited Means
Here, business is growing brisk due to Queen Victoria’s impending death and all of the preparations made for her spectacular funeral. The talking bulldog, TurtleDove, who loyally cares for the orphans, reminded the VV of Peter Pan, with Nana, the lost boys and their plight with the pirates – not to say that this book is derivative, for Lovric’s world is all her own. Beautifully written and skilfully told, this story succeeds on most every level. It will make you laugh, and cry, and flinch. It will leave you entirely satisfied.
The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium are published by Orion Books.
For a review of The Book of Human Skin, one of Michelle Lovric's adult historical novels - which are also brilliant - please see this review from Lucy Inglis of Georgian London, who first introduced me to Lovric's work. Thank you, Lucy!
And now, to whet your appetite more, there is a trailer available to watch on Youtube.