Reviews for The Undrowned Child

Of several fine debuts this year, one of the outstanding new voices for readers of this age group is Michelle Lovric, whose The Undrowned Child appears this month. A mysterious tale set in an historically fantasy Venice – with mermaids – is gripping, elegant and original.

Daniel Hahn, The Independent, 12 July 2009


Don't let the sheer size of this enormous novel put you off: it is extremely interesting and well worth reading! The protagonist is 11-year-old Teodora who survived a bad accident as a child and is the 'undrowned child' of the title. While her parents attend a lengthy scientific conference, Teodora slowly but surely gets drawn into a mysterious netherworld of Venice that tourists would never see, a world peopled with mermaids, ghosts and unusually powerful animals. As it turns out, only Teodora can calm things and restore order to that beautiful city – no mean task!

Make sure you don't read the book until you're on holiday, as you won't want to put it down once you have started! Recommended for anybody over the age of ten with an interest in history, mystery or simply a gripping story line.

Charlotte Westwood, age 12, in Red House magazine, July-August 2009


Looking for a highly original, thumping good read this summer? The Undrowned Child will not disappoint. It might be out as children's book but it's far more than that.

Written by my friend and driving force behind the Clink Street Writers, Michelle Lovric, it's a tour de force of imagination: curry eating mermaids – lots of chocolate and chilli – plus baddened magic and Venice brought to life in a way you will not have encountered anywhere else.

Want to know how to write a thumping good story of Dickensian proportions? You won't find a better model!

Pam Johnson, July 2009


Venice is dying, strange beasts haunt its shores and an ancient evil has been awakened. Only eleven-year-old Teodora and her friend Renzo can save the city and fulfil a strange prophecy. An epic and truly atmospheric story that weaves Venetian history with magic and sorcery. The streets of Venice come alive in the hands of author Michelle Lovric's lyrical prose and rich descriptive detail. This adventure will have readers gripped from the very first page.

Best New Books for Children, summer 2009


Ignoring the old cliché about judging a book by its cover,The Undrowned Child's beautifully distressed outer sheet promises much about the fairytale within. A sketch of Venice gives way to a mermaid swimming through a turquoise sea, with the book's edges made to look like an ancient volume. And the cover certainly delivers.

Michelle Lovric's first children's book reads like a harmonious cross between JK Rowling and Dan Brown – it's a carefully conceived adventure set in 1800s Venice, where mermaids exist, children can see ghosts and librarians can change into cats. Our young heroine Teo comes to an ailing Venice with her adoptive scientist parents, and learns about her real roots with the help of an old book called The Key to the Secret City. Together with a studious Venetian boy, Teo sets out to save the city from an old enemy.

Lovric conjures up a delightfully mystical Venice and two sympathetic heroes in a fast-paced story, with a map and handy historical information that will have children of all ages hooked.

Kate Whiting, PA News, July 2009


There is perhaps no other contemporary novelist as immersed in all things Venetian as Michelle Lovric. Already the author of three adult novels all inspired by La Serenissima, including Orange Prize long-listed The Remedy, Lovric has now set her first novel for younger readers there too.The Undrowned Child is a sumptuous read, as luxuriant and magical as Venice itself.

On a visit to the city with her adoptive parents, 11-year-old Teodora is hit on the head by a falling book as she browses in an old-fashioned bookshop. The book, entitled ‘The Key to the Secret City'sets off a portentous sequence of events, which herald the return of an evil undead traitor who means to destroy the city and consign its inhabitants to a fate worse than death in his lust for revenge. Only Teo, the ‘Undrowned Child'of an old prophecy, with the help of a somewhat hostile Venetian boy, Renzo, can save Venice now.

Bursting with plot devices based on real historical events and actual Venetian locations, The Undrowned Child also teams with a myriad cast of fantastic creatures, including Syrian cats with wings; terrifying wooden statues that move, fearsome seagulls, vampire eels, thousands of cockroaches and most memorably of all, a cavern of curry-loving mermaids. So rich in detail is Lovric's tale that occasionally readers are in real danger of losing themselves in its labyrinthine twists and turns. Yet this is perhaps forgivable, for, as any visitor to Venice knows, giving oneself up to its maze of alleyways and waterways is the only way to get to know the city. So it is with The Undrowned Child. Even if you've never been to Venice, you'll probably be under its spell once you emerge from reading this.

Caroline Sanderson, Books for Keeps No. 179, November 2009


It's the beginning of the 20th century; the age of scientific progress. But for Venice the future looks bleak. A conference of scientists assembles to address the problems, among whose delegates are the parents of eleven-year-old Teodora. Within days of her arrival, she finds herself in another Venice altogether, and embroiled in a battle against forces determined to destroy the city once and for all. Only Teo, the undrowned child who survived a tragic accident as a baby, can restore order.

This is a highly inventive and richly imagined tale, which combines history and fantasy in a most original way. The two sections at the end – Places and Things in The Undrowned Child that you can still see in Venice, and What is true, and what's made up? – are extremely useful additions to the story. It's a long book, with a large cast of characters and a complex plot, and the pace never lets up for a moment. Ghosts, sharks, living statues, flying cats – and some delightful mermaids, who have acquired their vocabulary from pirates: '…we oftimes speak as rough as guts…'

The story concerns the quest by the evil spirit of Bajamonte Tiepolo – Il Traditore, who lived in the 14th century – to be reunited with his bones, and get his revenge on the city that exiled him. Event upon gruesome event pile up on one another, like the wooden piles on which Venice itself is built. It's not a book for the faint-hearted. '…And displayed in San Marco, impaled and trapped in every torture device, were Venetians… each wore a white linen cravatte on which was scrawled, ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!'apparently in their own blood. Here too, the children of Venicehad not escaped. Rows of small corpses dangled from the lamp-posts.'

Michelle Lovric is an accomplished writer, who clearly knows and loves Venice a lot. The book is a plea for imagination to exist alongside empiricism… 'Charm. Beauty. Magic? These were not words that usually came from the mouths of Teo's highly rational and scientific parents…' It's also a plea for historic cities not to be ruled by tourism, as the mayor finds excuse after excuse to keep his visitors in Venice when it has become extremely dangerous for them to remain.

This is an unusual book, which requires concentration. My main criticism is that you can't read it in fits and starts, because you forget the intricacies of the action. Something to take on holiday, perhaps – preferably to Venice!

Elizabeth Kay, Write Away, October 2009


Michelle Lovric's The Undrowned Child is set in Italy and is about a girl from Naples who has always wanted to go to Venice. When she finally gets a chance strange things start happening and all is not as it appears.

The novel is set over 100 years ago and explores the relationship between the characters Teodora and Renzo. There is a map of Venice included at the start of the novel so you can understand all the different locations used in the story, such as the Grand Canal. Along with this Michelle Lovric has also added actual people and events into the plotline, such as the Bubonic Plague, which makes the story seem even more realistic and interesting to read. I wish there were more books like this that truly incorporate history and adventure for an out of this world reading experience.

I would recommend this book to anyone that would like to have fun while finding out true stories about this world-famous city. The ending is truly spectacular but make sure you don't go into it expecting lots of action from the start because the first few chapters can seem a bit dreary at times but if you stick at it you will definitely start to realise that it was worth reading. By the end you will be relieved you did keep going and you will be extremely happy with your reading experience.

This brilliant adventure is full of fantasy and drama and there's always something going on - the giant squid-like monster was a bit unexpected! You never know what's around the next corner and by the halfway point you are completely absorbed. I hope that many others will have as much pleasure reading this book as I did.

Rachel, on behalf of The Scottish Book Trust


The mermaids in Michelle Lovric'sThe Undrowned Child have learned their way of talking from pirates, so have rather salty turns of phrase, which take us a long way from Waterhouse. Their taste in food is also spicy, since they are great fans of curry. And they are vegetarians, like their author – and me – so I felt an immediate affinity with them.

They are only one aspect of a book absolutely stuffed with adventure - sharks, living statues, winged lions, ghosts, villains, spells, carnivorous seagulls and a headless butcher – and set in Venice, where Lovric lives for part of the year. It's quite gory in places but with a very feisty heroine in Teodora (Teo) who deals fearlessly with everything the resurrected evil Bajamonte Tiepolo throws at her. Teo is not a mermaid but has miraculously survived an accident at sea in which everyone else was drowned. But she is a water-baby and much helped by the cursing, curry-eating mermaids.

Mary Hoffman, Bookmaven Blog, 2 October 2009


Take one adopted child call Teodora, add a cursed city under siege from vindictive ghosts seeking revenge, a huge monster slowly coming awake under the Venice lagoon, cannibal seagulls, anti-establishment mermaids, a vain friend and one handsome Venetian boy and you have all the ingredients for a spectacular adventure in real life Venice of 1899. Teo is an unusual child in many ways. She has never believed she belonged in Naples and when she finally persuades her scientist family to take her to Venice she feels she is coming home. She is unique in many ways. She never eats fish, she can see what people are saying as handwriting appears above their heads and she can tell if someone is pure of heart by just touching their chest. She finally wins the argument but sadly she is to be accompanied by a vain girl her own age, the daughter of her adoptive parents'best friends. Teo and Maria (who loath each other) are left to their own devices in Venice as their families prepare to give lectures on how Venice could be saved from drowning.

Teo delights in a wonderful old bookshop (she loves to read), a heavy book falls on her head and she is hurt. The bookshop owner gives her the book to keep her sweet and her worried parents take her back to the hotel. The book is called The Key to the City and the pages come alive. There is a girl on the cover who looks just like Teo and winks at her when she holds it. It has an inscription dedicated to her. Welcome to Venice, Teodora-of-sad-memory, we have been waiting for you for a very long time. Very odd.

Her parents call in a Doctor as Teo keeps seeing things and has a headache. He insists upon talking her to the hospital and that's where everything begins to go terribly wrong. First a wooden statue moves and bleeds, terrifying everyone, and then Teo goes missing.

There are posters all over Venicealerting people to the Lost Girl. But Teo is not lost or missing, she has become invisible to adults, fallen between the lines. The book begins to talk to her, guides her around Venice, begins to teach her the real city and the great threat to it. Everywhere there are posters stating Gone Missing Teodora Stampara, 11 years old from Naples curling dark hair, green eyes, slight build, a large bruise on her forehead.

But Teo spots Maria with a young man with a suspicious mole on his head and a gleaming bewitching emerald. She suspects the young man of being evil but has no proof. Maris is in more danger than she knows but is captivated by the jewels and trinkets the young man gives her.

Teo has to learn to survive by stealing food and eventually she meets the boy Renzo who condescends to speak to her, despite her being from Naples, and eventually she shares The Key to the City with him.

Renzo is the son of a Gondolier and is very proud of Venice and fearful of it drowning. Everywhere there are leaflets warning of trouble and that no one must trust the Mayor. No one knows who is printing them. The Mayor says Venice is safe but Renzo tells her children everywhere are dying of plague and being buried at night so the tourists don't see the families grieving.

Together with the aide of the book they meet the mermaids below the House of Spirits and discover their purpose. Lussa, the beautiful Queen of Mermaids and her kin, have been waiting for the Undrowned Child and the Studious Son for a long time. They enlist their help to defeat the awakening monster below and the evil Bajamonte Tiepolo who once tried to destroy Venice in 1310 and has awoken and wants to try again. Along the way they also discover that Maria is a traitor and she is being turned into a dwarf!

The Undrowned Child is a fantastic tale, rich in detail, complex, scary and Teo and Renzo make a fine couple battling all, risking life and limb for a city they love. Along the way the history of Venice unfolds and we meet astonishing creatures, flying Syrian cats and the massed forces of evil gathering to murder every living soul in Venice.

The Undrowned Child is a truly astonishing novel by Michelle Lovric that any child who loves words and ghosts will treasure for a very long time.

© Sam North, 22 September 2009, Editor of Hackwriters and author of Mean Tide


What's in a name? Quite a lot really, when your name turns out to be Teodora-of-Sad-Memory and everyone calls you the Undrowned Child, destined to save the dying city of Venice. The beautiful city is under attack from the fearsome ghostly traitor of the dark past, 'Il Traditore', who has returned from beyond the grave, along with his monstrous allies, to wreak his revenge and destroy the city he once lived in long ago.

We join Teo in her journey of self-discovery, as she goes 'between the linings', becoming part human – part ghostly invisible child, unlocking the secrets of her own past and destiny, along with those of the city she must save. She enlists the help of Renzo, the Studious Son of the old prophecy, and together they embark on an epic journey, peopled with strange mystical and magical creatures who help them on their way. I particularly love the curry-quaffing mermaids who converse entirely in sailor-speak punctuated with archaic oaths!

The book tells an adventure of epic proportions, slightly reminiscent of Narnia, bringing together all the forces of good and evil for a final heroic battle. The story incorporates a number of wholesome values, such as friendship, solidarity, courage, perseverance, self-sacrifice. It also explores some other characteristics, evoking both sides of the coin, for example vanity (Maria is overly vain and is transformed into an ugly dwarf whereas Teo is gently chided into taking more care over her appearance), patriotism (Renzo will courageously defend his city whatever the cost, but he also comes to realise that his instant dismissal of Teo as a non-Venetian is purely based on false racist stereotypes) and loyalty (many characters, including Teo and Renzo, are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend their friends and allies, but Teo also learns the hard way that her naively blind trust of and loyalty to Maria could have been her – and the whole city's – downfall).

I think this has the potential to be made into an absolutely brilliant film. It ticks all the right boxes, offering the suspense, the adventure, the epic battles, the fantastical creatures, the humour, the well known landscapes. It could be a crazy mixture of Harry Potter, The Little Mermaid and Cloverfield! I actually wonder if it would have more success and reach a wider audience as a film, because although I loved reading it as an adult, I did wonder at times if it was a bit too ambitious in length and literary style for the target audience of children and teenagers.

As a teacher, I also love the section at the end that explains which elements really exist or existed in Venice and Venetian history and which were purely invented. Used along with the map at the start of the book, there is scope for some great class project work here.

Cheryl Pasquier, Madhouse Family Reviews Blogspot, 4 September 2009 - Star rating : 4.5/5


All her life Teodora has wanted to visit Venice, but her adoptive parents have always resisted. Now Venice is sinking faster than ever before and strange things are stirring, and her scientific parents have been called from Naples to attend a convention to figure out the problem and its solution while the Mayor of Venice pretends that nothing is wrong and that children aren't dying.

Eleven-year-old Teo happily explores the ancient city and, when it falls on her head in an old bookshop, acquires a little volume with a mermaid on the cover: The Key to the Secret City. Carved and painted mermaids decorate the city and begin mouthing rough sailor talk to Teo that only she can hear, and the book seems to have been written just for her, 'Teodora-of-Sad-Memory'.

The knock on the head the book gave her sees her sent to hospital with a concussion, and during the night she disappears, only to wake up on a tomb two days later. No one can see her except other children and ghosts because she is now between-the-linings; she can only watch as her parents put up missing posters and search for her.

The Key to the Secret City shows her Venice, but it isn't until she meets Lorenzo, a smug, studious boy, that she learns more of the history of the city. And when the two are led by the Key to the mermaids and their Seldom Seen Press which they use to print handbills telling the truth about the city, they learn the truth about Bajamonte Tiepolo, who in 1310 tried to take over the city for his own ends - that now, in 1899, he's returned, that he's trying to put his body back together and drown Venice in mud. Teo also learns the truth of her own past, how she came to be adopted and live in Naples, and who her real parents are.

The mermaids have an important task for Teo and Lenzo, the Undrowned Child and the Studious Son: they must find Bajamonte's Spell Almanac and help defeat him in a battle that only the supernatural can fight, while in the depths of the lagoon a Creature stirs ...

This is a gorgeous book, beautiful in form and appearance as much as in story – the dust jacket is thick and old-feeling, with a wonderful illustration and rich colours, a gold embossed title and marbled flyleaf. The pages are thicker than normal too, with chapter headings in old typeface and the story in a similar font as that used for the Harry Potter books. There's so much detail in the look and feel of the book, as well as a map of the old city, that it perfectly complements the tone of the story and makes you feel like you're holding pirates'treasure.

Based on real historical events artistically altered to fit the story, Lovric has written a charming story full of weird and wonderful characters, magic and mystery, adventure and mayhem, folklore and Viennese history. Teo doesn't narrate but hers is the perspective we see through, and she is a wonderful protagonist who carries the story easily. She has the gift of seeing what people are saying in their own personal script above their heads, of reading hearts with a touch and reading books upside down. My favourite character was easily the Grey Lady at the Archives, and I loved all those statues and emblems of the city coming to life in defence of their home.

A busy story, events move swiftly and in deepening layers, never leaving you behind. For some reason I can't figure out, this book took me a long time to read. I found it hard to sit down with it and really read for any length of time. It is written for children, but unlike, say, Harry Potter, I kept slipping from the story. I doubt this is a problem with the book; more with myself and my life at the time – it certainly didn't detract from how impressed I was with it.

The tone is both light and dark, full of humour and irony and even a few political digs that should be just as noticeable to a younger audience. The mermaids'colourful sailors'cant and love of curry was amusing, and the fantasy aspects were new and invigorating. I keep coming back to the details, both in terms of story, prose and look, dialogue and character. The love of books, history and the fantastical secret underbelly of an old city comes across vividly. This is a Venice that you just have to visit.

Giraffe Days Book Reviews, August 2009


Anchovies are caring and useful creatures. Well fish, really. And I often feel I could murder a piri-piri pea pie, so, yes please.

I've just read Michelle Lovric's The Undrowned Child, and for anyone who might feel the need for something Harry Potterish after HP himself; look no further. And if you're not, I still recommend reading this mermaid war drama set in Venice.

I don't know Venice, personally, so don't know if it's really like this. Or was, as the story is set in 1899. Eleven-year-old Teodora visits Venice, and soon finds herself at the centre of a complicated revolution of sorts. She has various unusual, but useful, skills, such as reading upside down and seeing people's speech in writing in the air. Teo meets a charming young Venetian gentleman, about her own age, called Renzo.

Soon all hell breaks lose in Venice, as an old traitor tries to return six hundred years after he died. Both sides in this war have the services of some unusual creatures, and the anchovies play a small part. And I'll never be able to look at stone lions in the same light after this. Lots of dead ghosts (I suppose ghosts are usually dead-ish?) and gondolier children and mermaids. The mermaids run the show, and they talk much like I imagine fishwives to talk. But boy can they cook!

Great adventure story! And don't be put off by the mermaids. Anything less mermaidish I've not come across. It's not cute; it's exciting and different.

Bookwitch blog


Next week sees the publication of The Undrowned Child, Michelle Lovric's new novel for older children. I think that it'll turn out to be easily the best Venice-set novel of the year, and it certainly seems that it'll be getting the promotion it, and the author, deserves. But maybe I'm a bit biased...see the confession on my review page …

And with the appearance of Michelle Lovric's latest I have to make a confession, which will not surprise the observant. After having made her website, and now being thanked in the acknowledgements in this very book, it would be foolish for me claim to be disinterested when it comes to a friend's work. So you have my permission to take the following review with a pinch of salt, but if you think that the reviews you read elsewhere are not often affected by friendship, you need to go to more literary parties. Leaving all of which aside, I hope that you more trusting types will believe me when I say that this book is one real Venetian treat. It is the author's first book for children (more are planned) and concerns the visit to Venice of Teodora Stampara, a bookish and solitary child who is the daughter of scientists brought to the city by a conference on Venice's danger of drowning. Teo is let loose on the city of her dreams and is soon in possession of a book about the city which seems made for her, in more ways than one, and which leads her into some very dark places. Along the way she makes friends, mostly with women with fishy tails and dirty mouths and a taste for curry, but also with ghosts and statues and a boy, and she learns much. This is as spooky as you'd expect from a supernatural tale for young adults/older children, but with charm and depth too. If I'd read this book as a child I think that my passion for Venice would've come that much quicker. Citing the names of Potter and Pullman is not inappropriate, but not as a cynical marketing ploy so much as an appreciation of the rare skill for combining magic and humanity so that the reader is left with his collies wobbled and his heart warmed.

Jeff Cotton, Fictional Cities website


In a nutshell...

Dark, thrilling, gory, fairy tale

What's it all about?

Venice hides many secrets. Away from crowds of tourists in the floating city there are ghosts only children can see, secret societies, mermaids who love curries, conspiracies and spell books. The Undrowned Child takes the reader through 18 days in the Venice of June 1899 but also the vivid and strange history of the former empire.

This world is discovered by an 11-year-old Neapolitan, Teodora. Teodora, the adopted daughter of two scientists, has some very unscientific gifts, such as being able to see people's words written in the air above their heads.

She arrives in Venice as her parents try to save the city from sinking, but becomes enthralled as the city reveals it is sick with boiling wells and the bones of a long dead foe rising to seek revenge with rising water and an invasion of pirates.

All because a book falls on her head.

But this is far from a simple fairy story.

It opens with a family drowning as they take a child to be christened, and a captain of a ferry attacked and killed by gulls.

Fantastic gruesome tales and very real horrors – such as the loss of a child on a holiday – intersperse this story of a young girl's self discovery.

In the end, the hero is the one who finds strength in books and not fashion and fights for the city she loves.

Who's it by?

Michelle Lovric is a travel writer and novelist who luckily manages to split her life between London and Venice.

The Undrowned Child is her first children's book, previously penning a series of novels set in Venice (Carnevale, The Floating Book and The Remedy) and translating Latin and Italian poetry.

As an example...

'To touch the head of the Butcher Biasio was the worst thing that Teo could imagine. Actually taking it in her hands made her sick to the core of her stomach. Gingerly, she lifted the thing by the ears, trying not to look at the black hairs sprouting from them.'

'Renzo leapt in close, kicked the head right across the square like a football.'

'The Butcher dropped to his knees and began to crawl in the direction of his head.'

Likelihood of becoming a Hollywood blockbuster

Perhaps only a three-hour epic could gather the complexity and colour of The Undrowned Child. But following Teodora through the twilight of headless butchers, ghosts, torture, murder and a thrilling chase would be amazing.

If the film rights are not yet sold, I'd put in an offer.

So is it any good?

On a Tube journey from Westminster to Green Park (one stop) I glanced up from The Undrowned Child at Baker Street.

Sufficed to say, the simple but very complex story is deeply engaging.

There is also a further level as Lovric drags the reader through Venice. The Undrowned Child is a guide book to the city – with a lovely appendix explaining where the locations really are with the historical accuracies and where history had been stretched.

It is not hard to imagine children and adults storming through Venice with Lovric as a guide. Nor if The Undrowned Child is a success the main character Teodora's guide within the book, The Key to the Secret City, being published and leading readers further.

It is also a love story about Venice. Girl meets city, falls in love, and fights to save it.

The Undrowned Child has a marvelous story and is bound with a love of Venice. But what really distinguishes from what could have been an author's vain attempt to write about Venice is the colourful language and detail.

The mermaid have learnt English from pirates and like curry, the nuns see ghosts, the evil takes revenge on the bakers souring their pastries while poisoning tourists with mint ice-cream – no doubt a dig at the poor quality gelato served in St Mark's Square compared to the good stuff hidden in the back streets.

There are also a few sly digs at the Biennale art festival and Venetians'open snobbishness to any foreigner, Italians included.

Although aimed at a ‘young adult'audience - meaning children over ten - it seems certain the depth of the storyline will lead it on Harry Potter's successful quest into the adult market.

The Undrowned Child is a joy that never fails to get bogged down over 400 pages.

If you can't go on holiday or afford eurozone prices, you can still discover Venice and escape the grey skies of recession Britain

Daniel Barnes at


The adventure does more rollicking than I could shake a stick at … And then there are the fantastical characters. These are simply sublime – from the three types of ghost, to the Grey Lady who can transform into a cat, to the big bad villain himself, the traitor Bajamonte Tiepolo. They're all three-dimensional and they all fit perfectly into their surroundings, born from real Venetian inspiration. And then there are the mermaids, who are absolute triumphs and utterly hilarious. With speech influenced by sailors, they are as salty-tongued as they come –'What a drivelswigger! Drags on like a sea-cow's saliva!', run underground and subversive printing presses, and have a love for spicy food. Seaweed-cocoa with cayenne pepper, anyone? How about curried lagoon samphire?

It is one for the committed reader, but this committed reader thought it was absolutely marvellous.

Jill Murphy at The Bookbag website


An amazing urban fantasy for children.

LibraryThing website


This sumptuous Venetian adventure is the first novel for children by Lovric, author of Carnevale. It's a Potter-esque 424 pages … but a great romp for more literary readers.

Fiona Noble, Children's Previews, The Bookseller


What an amazing sense of place the writer establishes – Venice is really the central character! The cast of characters too is fresh and quite extraordinary – how I loved those mermaids and their way of life. I didn't put it down as the story sweeps on with such speed and wonder that there's no place to stop.'

Wendy Cooling, children's book consultant


Atmospheric, beautifully written and about Venice – a superb volume of adventure encompassing all that makes a good solid read. Includes ghosts, retribution, death, mermaids, seahorses, bravery – absolutely brilliant. Read it in Venice if you can, if not, then read it and visit as soon as you can ...This is a must read book.

Sue Chambers, Waterstones, Harrods


A captivating magical fantasy in a secret watery underworld, The Undrowned Child tells how eleven year old Teodora is swept into the storybook world of invisible children whose task is to save the dying city of Venice. Working alongside the mermaids Theodora's task is immense. Together can they save the city before the water destroys it? With lyrical writing and an unputdownable plot this is something very special. Julia Eccleshare, website.

Julia Eccleshare is the children's editor of The Guardian.


A stunning debut novel … Part fairy tale, part historical fiction, this is writing that is alight and alive. Two worlds are held in balance, Venice on the cusp of change, as science exerts an even stronger stranglehold against a deeper, underwater world of myth and mermaids. A beautifully told allegory that captures the power of language, this has definite crossover appeal.

Jake Hope, Booksellers'Choice, The Bookseller


For 10-14-year olds I would recommend The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric. This is the sort of book that is labelled ‘for children' but that will be passed round the eager family. If you like ghost stories, books set in Venice or being scared stiff – especially by sharks – this is the book for you. And if you think you don't fall into those categories, you will still find yourself gripped, it is so well written.

Teodora comes to Venice aged 11 with her scientist parents in 1899. But she is adopted: she is really a baby who was lost in a foggy accident on the Venetian lagoon. From there, Teodora's adventures, with a marvellously insouciant and snooty boy called Renzo, include forming an alliance with mermaids, wrestling with sharks and fighting off the most sinister magician since Voldemort. Crammed with history, fantasy and beautiful comedy, this book gets a five-star rating.

A.N. Wilson, Reader's Digest Christmas Issue, December 2009


It's a wonderful feeling when you realise that the book you are reading is destined to be a classic. That's the feeling you get within the first few pages of Michelle Lovric's The Undrowned Child. The beautiful cover artwork, the enchanting chapter-headings and a detailed map all let the reader know this book is filled with magic and imagination before the story has even begun.

The story opens with an introduction entitled ‘A Case of Baddened Magic' and tells the story of a dreadful night in 19th century Venice, when a strange storm causes an entire family to drown: everyone except a new-born baby, whose body was reportedly never found.

The story then jumps to 1899 and this ‘undrowned child' is now eleven years old. Returning to Venice for the first time since her adoption, Teodora comes across a mysterious book with illustrations that communicate with her, and writings addressed to ‘Teodora of Sad Memory'. As the story unfolds, Teo learns that she is destined for an enchanted and dangerous adventure, and that she must save the city she loves from sinking. Lovric combines elements of fairytale, history and gothic horror to create an astonishingly original work.

While the subject matter could be a little too much to take on for a younger reader, short chapters keep the pace moving and also make the content easier to digest. It does take a while to become fully involved in the story, but once you are it is virtually impossible to leave, as Lovric invites the reader to go ‘between the linings' into a magical alternative Venice.

Each of the many creatures are perfectly written three-dimensional characters and the transition between real and fantasy worlds is seamless. The Undrowned Child is a wonderfully enchanting story and my inability to stop reading made the end come far too quickly. I cannot recommend this book highly enough; I'm absolutely certain of its potential as a classic with both child and adult readers for years to come. Utterly brilliant.

Laura Taylor, Armadillo website, December 2009


With fantastical tales of talking books and mermaids with a taste for curry, this read will impress even the most vivid imaginations – it's like nothing we've read before! A thick and challenging read for older TGs.

Total Girl, Australia, 9 October 2009


A spooky must-read, especially if you're a fan of magic and mystery! When Teo comes to Venice, her life is turned topsy-turvy as she embarks on a journey to save the city, along with a boy named Renzo. This book is a total page-turner so be warned – you might be up all night trying to reach the last page! There's so much to love here like mean mermaids and ghosts, but we really liked the old-fashioned language.

GP magazine, Australia, October 2009


Mystical, magical and full of watery secrets, this book will enthral you.

Dmag, Australia, 9 November 2009


This is an extraordinarily inspired story, blending history and folklore with her own soaring imagination to create an enthralling tale.

Sunday Tasmanian, Australia, 6 December 2009


This book is a beautiful gem. It is clearly written for intelligent younger readers, but there is also much for adults to enjoy. On first acquaintance with it I was irresistably reminded of the HARRY POTTER books. However, like Venice itself, there is more to The Undrowned Child than might at first be apparent.

Like Harry Potter, the heroine of this marvellous fantasy discovers a magical realm that is unseen by most of the ordinary world. Again, like Harry Potter she discovers that she is the enemy of an evil force seeking to restore his material form and wreak vengeance on those who previously defied him. Like J.K. Rowling's hero she meets a cornucopia of supernatural beings and is aided in her fight against the enemy by various magical devices.

But The Undrowned Child is a far more subtle and evocative read than J.K. Rowling's creation. Part of its charm lies in the depiction of Venice - clearly born of an abiding passion for the architecture, culture, art and history of arguably the most beautiful city in the Western World. There is a dream-like beauty to this book which reminded me more of C.S.Lewis at his best than the stories of Hogwarts. The research and knowledge that has gone into this work shines through even during the phantasmagorical encounters with ghosts, werewolves, talking cats etc.

Author Michelle Lovric has mastered a compelling prose style that will captivate younger and older readers alike. Lovric, like her heroes, clearly loves books and learning. This is not to say that the book is in any way stuffy or humourless. The rough-talking, curry-eating mermaids are a comic highlight, and Lovric makes the 2 human heroes undergo a great deal of peril in the best traditions of fairy tales and fantasy adventure stories. Teo and Renzo are depicted as flawed and loveable protagonists and there is a warm vein of humour running through the narrative. Be warned though - due to some of the more horrific incidents in the book I would certainly not suggest it as suitable for smaller children.

The best recommendation I can give this book is that it made me want to go to Venice as soon as I'd finished it. There also seems to be room for a sequel or two. On the evidence of this book it appears that there may well be a lot more mileage in exploring this alternate and fantastical version of Venice. January 2010


There is currently a surfeit of fantasy novels for the younger audience so it was refreshing to find one with originality and charm. Set in Venice in 1899, the author highlights the problems of the modern city, although in a different context, and finds a magical rather than a prosaic solution. The heroine Teo accompanies her adoptive parents to the city as they join other scientists in an effort to prevent the destruction of Venice. The acquisition of a magic book shows her that saving the city is her destiny and that the source of the threat is supernatural. She is aided in her quest by the obligatory boy as well as mermaids, who speak like sailors and are addicted to curry, ghosts and flying cats. Their supernatural foes are suitably dark and scary.

An intricate, fast-paced plot supported by stylish writing will hold the attention of good primary readers; in addition there are elements of humour and satire to add to the experience for KS3. I suspect there will be a number of requests for holidays in Venice.

Janet Sunmer, the SL, winter 2009


In 1899, Teodora at last gets the chance to visit Venice, the city of her dreams. What she finds is a city about to be drowned and destroyed and Teo is caught up in the fight to save it.

I liked this book because it told me a lot of stuff about a place I didn't know – Venice. It's both an adventure and a fantasy book about a young girl who survives a tragic accident in a really weird way – and what happens to her next. Teo, the main character, is really brave. I like the fact that she always seems to know what she is doing and that she's nice to people. Her tragedy reminds me of the Titanic sinking and how so few people survived that too. In the book Venice is sinking, which is also happening in real life. This book is mysterious and strange.

Stephanie Centola, Forrester High, Teen Titles, January 2010


































On the way home, Pylorus guided Renzo to the bookshops at Took's Court, where both were lost to literary pleasure for several hours.

Venice has been used as a stage for many books before, but this time the City of Water is the perfect background for a very original story which involves a parallel world, mermaids, ghosts, speaking statues and many more 'out of this world' characters...
Whilst unveiling the story, the writer manages to give the reader a particular insight into Venice. Even though it is set more than one hundred years ago, the dangers and problems threatening the city are so current and they are brought so close to the present that you feel you are there living the story with Teo and Renzo. And whilst reading you are walking though the campi, the calli, the canals of Venice and you feel like you are there. Or at least that’s how I felt.
     If you are thinking of going to
Venice with your children and want them to know about the City of Water before they get there, this is the perfect book for them. It will entice them, they will want to go and find each single one of the places mentioned in the story. And with a little map at the beginning of the book pinpointing the most important sites of which the books talks about, this fantasy treasure hunt could not be easier.
     I really enjoyed reading this book, even if it was a children book. 
Michelle Lovric has managed to bring out of Venice not only the magic that always surrounds this city and that sense of mystery which always emerges from it, but also those day to day aspects of Venetian life,  which many times tourists and visitors ignore or forget about.
     The book is followed by a sequel which goes by the title of The Mourning Emporium: I will post about it pretty soon. Michelle Lovric has written many other books about Venice: her love for this city transpire in each word she writes.

Monica Cesarato’s blog, 2nd January 2011




Reviews for The Mourning Emporium

This is a swashbuckling, serious story with a great good vs evil storyline! If you like the His Dark Materials trilogy then you will love this!, 11th August 2010


Two years ago in 1898, Teodora, the Undrowned Child of prophecy, saved Venice from its resurrected traitor, Bajamonte Tiepolo. Since then, she and her partner-in-prophecy Lorenzo, the Studious Son, have led a fairly uneventful existence. But now, Venice is in peril once more. Ice creeps through its lagoon, vampire eels encased menacingly within it, and black cormorants have returned to spy on the city in their great, black clouds. Teodora knows baddened magic when she sees it, and her heart sinks at the awful realization - il Traditore is back...

This time, Teo and Renzo have not one, but two, cities to save. And this sequel to The Undrowned Child sees them travel from Venice to floating orphanage, to pirate ship, to London, where il Traditore is in league with a minor member of the British royal family. Queen Victoria lies dying in Osborne House and Harold Hoskins would like nothing more than to supplant Prince Edward and secure the succession. It's as rousing and vivid a book as its predecessor - on the surface is a mix of swashbuckling and humour, but underlying the action is some truly awesome research and a vocabulary-busting turn of phrase.

Once again, the supporting cast adds sparkle after sparkle. I was most glad to reacquaint myself with Venice's curry-loving, salty-tongued mermaids and I shared their disgust in their London counterparts - languid, fussy, uptight melusines they are, addled on Victorian London's various quackeries. They're all drug addicts! As were many Victorian ladies, as Lovric points out in her endnotes. The remedies the London mermaids use are genuine preparations on sale at the time. Turtledove, a kindhearted, orphan-saving, talking bulldog, was my other favourite. He's as memorable as any Narnian creation.

There are ghosts, talking animals, pirates, orphans, heroes and villains in world 'between the linings', but there's also a vivid and utterly accurate historical picture of London and Venice at the time. There's pace and tension, and there's a genuine and robust sense of humour underlying it all.

Jill Murphy, August 2010


This is the sequel to The Undrowned Child, a book that I sell in Waterstones in Harrods by the dozen - I received the proof of this second book a few days ago and felt that EVERYONE should be aware of this addition to the Teodora & Renzo adventures ... it seems that Tiepolo is moving more ways than one ... I was laughing out loud on the tube this morning ... and I am gripped once again by Michelle Lovric's depiction of Venice & evil and am waiting impatiently for my lunch break to return to Venice, Teo, Renzo ... mermaids, cats and the rest ... Everyone who has been to Venice, should and must read The Undrowned Child and then preorder this sequel ... Those that haven't been should visit and take The Undrowned Child with them ...

Sue Chambers, of the in-store Waterstones bookshop at Harrods


The Mourning Emporium is Michelle Lovric's sequel to The Undrowned Child, which was my book of 2009. ... Teo and Renzo are back in The Mourning Emporium and facing not only the return of Tiepolo and his baddened magic, but a change of scene when they are kidnapped aboard barely sea-worthy pirate ship the Scilla and end up in London as Queen Victoria dies.  There they find more mermaids, Venetian zookymen, a talking, waistcoat-wearing bulldog called Turtledove and The Mourning Emporium of Tristesse and Ganorus. ... This book is a pleasure and I sincerely recommend it.

Lucy Inglis, Georgian London website


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.

Essie Fox, Virtual Victorian blogspot

Without reading the stories it's hard to convey just how whimsical and wonderful they are. Historically imbued with so many interesting true tidbits, filled with unique and charming characters, and told in the most enjoyably unusual language, these books are like nothing I've ever read before.  They are at once the quintessential children's adventure story while being told in such an intelligent way that I can easily see them becoming great classics.
        The Mourning Emporium has a great new cast.  While holding on to the beloved Venetian Mermaids, Ms Lovric has also added London's own, less rough and tumble, mermaids, as well as a fantastic gang of street children cared for by an english bulldog by the name of Turtledove, not to mention the wonderful cat of the Scilla Sofonisba and her entourage of orphaned Venetian boys.   But not to worry!  She hasn't neglected to add a new host of evil doers as well.  Ms Uish, the Pretender to the British throne, sheep obsessed convicts from Australia and some vampire squids make for some deliciously awful villains for our children to come up against.
        Told in such a way to be engrossing for both children and adults alike these books are so packed full of intriguingly true history and wonderful vocabulary I'm guessing virtually every kind of reader also comes away having learned something too.  Though you pick it up in such an enjoyable way it hardly seems like you could have learned something, isn't learning supposed to be endlessly boring??
Rhiannon Ryder, Diary of a Bookworm website

Queen Victoria is dying and, in an Australian penal colony, a Pretender, Harold Hoskins, is planning to seize the British throne with the help of an army of ghost-convicts, vampiric sea-creatures and spying seabirds. In league with him is Bajamonte Tiepolo, the ghost of a mediaeval Venetian traitor who has already brought Venice to its knees by inducing an ice-storm and heavy flooding. Sailing from Venice to save London from the same fate are young Teo and her friend, Renzo, who have certain advantages over most adults, including the ability to talk to animals and see ghosts.

       This summary provides only a flavour of the immense detail and intricate mythologies contained in this book, the second of a trilogy set in a fantastical alternative to the years around 1900. ... These incidents are supported by ripely eccentric characterisations and humorous dialogue ... Lovric also demonstrates great descriptive verve – the British coast ‘opens like a grim grey smile in the water' – and clearly has a precise understanding of the geographies of both Venice and London, potentially encouraging her readers to turn to their maps. The book will appeal to all readers who appreciate adventure, fantasy and humour, although the centrality of Teo, albeit disguised as a boy for much of the time, may particularly attract female readers. Its sharp characterisation and direct dialogue make it accessible for those of 11 upwards.

Ruth Taylor, Books for Keeps website


In this standalone sequel to The Undrowned Child, Michelle Lovric has provided another rip-roaring tale of amazing ingenuity and inventiveness. The date is December 1900, and the villainous real-life Venetian traitor, Bajamonte Tiepolo, has moved his sights from Venice to London, where Queen Victoria is on her deathbed. With Venice in the fatal grip of an icy lagoon of bad magic, the Venetian heroes, Teo(dora) and Renzo, set sail in the Scilla for London, where they are ably abetted by a wonderful cast of mermaids, orphans, Venetian pumpkin-sellers known as the Incogniti, a circus master, ghosts and, best of all, a talking English bulldog, Turtledove.
    Lovric’s imaginative characterisation knows no bounds, and her dialogue sparkles with wit. For an adult reader, who unashamedly loved every word of it, the book gives a glimpse of the weird and wonderful Victorian world – the mourning emporium of the title was a reality, and a host of other details – including the quack medicines and contraptions used by the hypochondriac English mermaids – are based on historical fact; for younger readers, it offers a treasure trove of delight, with an action-packed plot spiced by historical events and magic.

Lucinda Byatt, Historical Novel Society website


The Undrowned Child is a book that makes me excited about books – about the art of story-telling, about imagination, about the cleverness and beauty of the English language, about great characters and about the ability of a story to transport you someplace else. It was the best kids book I read last year, and I only happened onto it because I was searching for kids/YA books that had mermaids in them, and this one came up. It is a shame it doesn’t seem to be well-known (as far as I can tell, in Australia). Maybe the release of the second in the series, The Mourning Emporium, will change that – I hope so, because The Undrowned Child has all the qualities that made Harry Potter so popular and successful – wit, humour, adventure, genuine chills, complex, appealing characters and story-telling that is completely immersive ... The Undrowned Child is a fantastic mix of real Venetian history, fascinating mythology/fairy-tale and a subtle coming-of-age story concerning Teo, our heroine. The sub-plot involving her feelings for the infuriating Renzo is touching and beautifully done, her attitude towards their whole relationship spot-on for the no-longer-child but not-quite-teen. Teo is flawed and she and Renzo make mistakes in their mission to save Venice, but this makes their endearing characters realistic and us empathetic to their many dilemmas.
      I was enthralled by just about every character in The Undrowned Child, whether they play a big part or small. Lovric has a way with characterisation and their encounters with each other are a joy to read. I loved Lovric’s take on mermaids, and her hierarchy of ghosts. Her ‘evil’ characters are genuinely scary and she creates some awesome atmosphere with many of her set-pieces.
      Where The Undrowned Child really sucked me in was that it is genuinely witty and sharp, thanks in part to Teo’s way of seeing the world. Her dialogue is some of the best I’ve read in a children’s book, and her characters come out with such funny and interesting ways of expressing themselves. I did notice that she seems to have a disregard for using the word said – all her characters exclaim, or talk despondently, or sob, or exclaim snootily, and so on. This goes against just about everything I’ve been taught about writing, but you know what? For this book, I think it works. It’s all part of the book’s quirky charm.
      Love, love, loved The Undrowned Child. Maybe not suitable for younger readers – but this in intelligent, amusing, captivating story-telling, and I only hope Lovric gets the recognition she deserves.'
Samantha Ellis, The Book Grotto website

This is a sequel to Lovric's young adult novel The Undrowned Child, in which the heroine, Teo, defeated the bad guy. The half-man, half-bat in question is one Bajamonte Tiepolo, who has now returned to the stricken city of Venice despite a prophecy that has identified Teo and her friend Renzo as the only people who can save the city. And now Tiepolo has his eye on London as Teo and Renzo find themselves aboard a boat filled with orphans bound for that bereaved city.

     If you don't recognise the influence of J.K. Rowling on the plot in the first few pages then you have not been paying attention but the writing style and vision are quite different.

     Lovric is a prolific writer and editor who also writes for adults. Her richly dark imagination is often also in evidence here. She is clever, witty and richly informed and there is plenty in this book to entertain adults as well as younger readers.

Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald, February 2011

The Undrowned Child is … full of characters and rich detail to satisfy the most imaginative child (or adult!). It’s a complex story, scary with risk, with death, ghosts, and revenge, but in which the dangers are off-set by such delightful inventions as mermaids who have a taste for curry and run a secret printing press. In such a context, it doesn’t seem so surprising that a librarian may turn into a cat …

     [In] The Mourning Emporium … the period depiction of London is just as thrilling as that of Venice: the contrasts are obvious, but both places are sites of that age-old confrontation between good and evil. Tiepolo is back, and once again the children and other powers for good must do battle against all that is unkind, destructive and cruel. And again it is the sheer inventiveness of image and language that make the book as satisfying to devour as a large piece of rich fruit cake ― delicious as well as nutritious.

     Here are a couple of examples of what I mean. The novel starts on a bitterly cold Christmas Day, 1900. Teodora is standing at the ice-crusted edge of the lagoon when her eye catches something glinting just below the surface of the frozen water. She bends down for a better look, then screams. What she has seen is “a white eel, thick and long as a young tree trunk, with red gills sprouting like coral from its muscular neck.” At the sound of her screams, the eel “slowly lowered one translucent eyelid and winked at her.” Already we are in the province of nightmare, a place where the extreme physical reality of that horridly white and muscular eel shows itself to be endowed with enough evil-seeming consciousness to wink at her. I shall never, ever forget that wink!

     And now a sentence from some way into the book. “The cat had followed them into the mess, and sat cleaning rat blood off her whiskers in a pensive sort of way.” A lesser writer would simply have told us the cat was cleaning the blood from its whiskers. But what a difference the specificity of ‘rat blood’ makes! It sends a shiver down one’s narrative spine.

     Then there are the wonderfully Dickensian names to wallow in (Tobias Putrid, Rosibund Greyhoare, Ann Picklefinch, Peaglum) and lyrical ones to enjoy (Sofonisba, Fabrizio, Rosato …), and the humour of a large, talking, child-protecting bull-dog bearing the unlikely name of Turtledove. And we meet a whole range of ways of using language as we hear the idiosyncratic accents and vocabulary of the different characters. But none of this holds up the fast pace of the story …

     For sheer joy, and above all for the development of a child’s imagination, we need books like the ones Michelle Lovric is offering us. ‘Imagination’ is the greatest gift we can give our children: without its ability to help us be other than we are, to imagine ourselves into other people’s shoes and to create worlds ― better worlds ― that do not yet exist, civilization falls into barbarity.  

City-Lit website, February 2011

You can almost smell the poverty and gin wafting off the pages ... strange story makes gripping historical fantasy.

Flipside, December 2010

As in the first novel, we find the same mix of historical fact and delicious fantasy and I can only imagine how many hours of research Michelle must have put into writing this book. It's a book aimed at children, peopled with magical mermaids, gigantic killer squid, talking animals and ghostly pirates, but a section at the end of the novel also tells you what was real and what wasn't in the novel and we learn that a surprising number of elements are actually based on historical fact. If only history lessons at school could be so interesting - it would be great for teachers to have poetic license and be allowed to throw a few warrior mermaids in for good measure to liven up the lessons a bit!  
Once again, Michelle adds a few life lessons in to the mix, looking at friendship, bravery, loyalty and sacrifice, but also jealousy, mistrust and prejudice (both amongst the children and their mermaid friends). The London street children, who remind me slightly of Fagin's boys in Oliver Twist, show the sad reality of life for many children at the turn of the last century and will strike a chord with young readers.'

Madhouse Family Reviews blogspot, March 2011

'This book is set in the brilliant, mysterious world of Venice in 1899. Ghosts walk the streets, winged lions move and handbills from the statue of Signor Rioba fill the streets. The prologue sent a shiver down my spine: a beginning to make you want to read on ...

I like the way the author uses things from history that are real; I found the way the magical book shows Teo around Venice very interesting.

This story, of Teo and Renzo – a Venetian boy - trying to save Venice from a traitor of the past, will scare you and make you smile. I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes magical stories set in historical places.'  Guardian online, May 2011


'Il grimorio di Veneziaè un romanzo tra fantasy, horror e storia, rivolto ad un pubblico di ragazzi, ma interessante anche per gli adulti, se non altro per chi, come l'autrice, è sedotto dal fascino senza tempo e decadente di Venezia e dalla sua storia, qui un po' reinventata, ma, come spiega anche Michelle Lovric, basata su fatti veri, anche sgradevoli, come il periodo della schiavitù, che qui torna come lato oscuro con l'attacco di Bajamonte Tiepolo. Una storia che avvince senza stancare, alternativa riuscita a quelli che ormai sono stereotipi della letteratura per ragazzi, parlando di magia ma senza copiare i successi degli ultimi anni (niente scuole di stregoneria e il cattivo non è il mago più malvagio di tutti i tempi) ma costruendo intorno un intreccio che mescola suggestioni già sentite ma che riesce ad essere originale, appassionante e divertente, oltre che un commosso ed appassionato omaggio ad una città eterna e fragile, bella e inquietante come Venezia.

In attesa che la Salani o altre case editrici propongano gli altri romanzi di Michelle Lovric, tra cui un altro per ragazzi, The mourning emporium, storia a se stante rispetto a Il grimorio di Venezia, e i titoli per adulti, è senz'altro piacevole scoprire una nuova penna, che propone un fantasy divertente e fuori dagli schemi, omaggiando un luogo magico di casa nostra e creando un'eroina che riprende personaggi come Pippi Calzelunghe, piccole donne intraprendenti non in attesa del  bel vampiro di turno pronte a prendere in mano l'avventura, per salvare Venezia da una minaccia che già tentò di ucciderla da bambina.' Sul Romanzo website, May 2011





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