Venice has long been a favourite setting for children’s books and if they happen to have an element of magic then so much the better. This fabulous book delivers on all levels and takes us into the world of a charming and very resourceful heroine.
Aribella has been brought up by her lace-maker father after the death of her mother ten years previously. Their lives are poor and Aribella’s father is still grieving for his wife and takes little notice of his daughter. The day before her 13th birthday Aribella is out fishing with her friend Theo when a dark fog comes down and fishing become impossible. The local fishermen think it is a bad omen and seek to blame Aribella, as females are bad luck on ships! When an older lad Gian gets into a fight with Theo and Aribella she is horrified to discover that flames shoot out of her finger ends. What follows next takes Aribella into a secret world that she had never heard of and leads her to discover what had actually happened to her mother. It appears that she is a Cannovacci, a person who holds special powers, and she needs to discover what this means and how to control the powers. Not only this, but she has to try and rescue her father from prison and save Venice from a dark and threatening danger. All of this adds up to a thrilling and fast paced adventure story that will have the readers totally engrossed by the plot and wanting more.
This is a magical story in several senses of the word. The author has managed to really imbue the book with a feel of the city and the the atmosphere that surrounds the waterways. At its core this is a story about the meaning and importance of family and friendship, as Aribella is torn between the various calls on her loyalty and has to decide who she can trust. It is also a story about people’s craving for power and what they will do in order to achieve their ends, even betraying their friends and colleagues.
She pulls in some of the things that make Venice so individual, especially the masks, which are central to the way that special powers are controlled. These masks appear in several stories about the city and everyone knows them from Carnival, in fact they have become popular style icons around the world. A quick search online reveals a fascinating history and I have added a couple of links that might be of interest. The term canovaccio, which is a close relation to the title Cannovacci actually refers to the performances by the “Commedia dell’ Arte” and seems to basically describe the outline of the performance. In order to circumvent the censorship laws the actual script was not written down, so the artists were able to ‘ad-lib’ within the basic frame work. I would be interested to know whether there was an intentional connection when the name of the group was chosen.
Anna Hoghton is a poet and filmmaker and is also a graduate of Bath Spa University and its outstanding MA in Writing for Young People Course. This is her first published novel and I very much hope that it will not be the last. She really has put together a work that connects the characters with the audience, but also gives us that desire to know more about the magical city that they inhabit. What a brilliant start to this part of Anna’s career!
Thank you to Chicken House for providing this excerpt from the book to whet your appetite.