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The International Writers Magazine: Young Fiction Review

The Fate in the Box by Michelle Lovric
Orion Children’s’ Books
ISBN: 978-1- 44400-3390
Hardback - May 2013

• Sam Hawksmoor

In 1783 Venice is terrorised by an Irish despot called Fogfinger who controls the city through his intimate knowledge of gossip and automata (clockwork robots).  He has the rich in the palm of his hands and the poor cowed into submission.  The rich are so idle they let the automata do everything for them and at night an army of slaves, the winder uppers, go out to wind up all the machines ready for the next day of indolence.

In this harsh world Amneris is the young artist who copies the designs from a special Kaleidoscope for her parents to make silk patterns for the rich.  Tockle is the boy who gathers glass shards from the Island of Murano where beautiful glass objects are made and his mother survives as a water seller, carrying around her buckets all day. Biri is a congirl, living on the proceeds of selling her clever parrot to people which returns to her each day so she can sell it again.

In Fogfingers' world, every home is equipped with a listening device so he can hear gossip and the talk of ‘traitors’.  The slightest wrong word and whole families could disappear as the secret Fog Police descend on them.  To keep the poor even more terrified there are the regular ‘lambings’ where chosen children are sacrificed to a giant crocodile that lurks in the lagoon.  The rich children are kept fat because the lambing at the top of the tower can only support children of a certain weight and that means poor, small, hungry kids are the only ones to die.
            Amneris is to be lambed, her short life to be snuffed out at the whim of a jack-in-the-box.  Can Amneris be saved?  It is a very long drop to the jaws of the beast.
            There is great evil and paranoia in this Italian adventure and much fun to be had in what is really a kind of distant prequel to the wonderful 'Undrowned World' by Ms Lovric. 
            The three children are connected by their poverty and by glass as well as their opposition to the evil puppet master Fogfinger.  There is another child, a spoiled, plump, rich girl whose every whim is catered for and by sheer chance Amneris and Latenia become odd friends.  But little does Latenia know that her fate is the most terrible of all.
            A complex delight with vivid writing that brings old Venice to life in a way that only Michelle Lovric can do.  Are there any mermaids you ask? – Can there just be only one shrivelled specimen in the Museum of Natural History?  Read on if you dare.  You will not be disappointed.

© Sam Hawksmoor  May 13 2013
Author The Repercussions of Tomas D and other stories

A previous review of Michelle Lovric
The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric
Publisher: Orion Children's Books (Jul 2009)

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