The edition: German (original) version, Dressler hardback edition, 396 pages,with the author’s drawings
The story: after their mother’s death, Prosper and Bo run away from their aunt Esther (who wants to adopt Bo and send Prosper to an institute) and reach Venice, the “City of the Moon”, about the magic of which their mother had told them again and again. Here they find shelter with a gang of street children and their leader, the Thief Lord. Adventures follow as they try to elude the detective Esther has hired, organize a robbery on behalf of a mysterious count, and discover the real identity of their gang’s chief.
My experience with the book & my thoughts: first things first, I’m glad I read this in German, because I don’t have a lot of patience with children lit in general, but with German I had to slow down a bit and could savor it. I was dubious about this book because I had read Inkheart and found it shallow and boring, but then again I had read that in Italian. (If you usually like children/YA novels, though, go with your own language.)
Because yes, it’s a good book. The story has enough depth and layers that it could grow confusing or unbelievable, but it seems to me pretty well executed and balanced. The characters are lovely, even in their most absurd behaviors they remain believable. And most of all, what made it click for me was Funke’s descriptions, full of the magic of real life.
The part with spoilers: it disturbed me that the merry-go-round really was supernatural. The rest of the story was so good as it was, without magical elements, that I hoped to the very end that the merry-go-round story too was only a legend. This is the thing that disappointed me most in the whole book. If you want to write a fantasy book, write a fantasy from the start; you may go the way of magical realism, if you want a middle way, but even in that you have to be consistent. A magic touch 3/4 into the book sounds too much like an opt-out.
Venice: I have to admit that I don’t usually understand the reason why people are so fascinated with Venice. This book, on the other hand, describes the city in just such a way as to create its magic. It is said that the boys’ mother “told them stories about winged lions, a golden cathedral, and about angels and dragons perched on top of the buildings. She told them that water nymphs came ashore for walks at night up the little stepson the edges of the canals. My sister could talk about these things in a way that she almost made me believe her.”(*) Now, I may not be able to see the magic in Venice, I may be a little like Esther in that sense, but Cornelia Funke can talk about Venice in a way that she almost made me believe her.
(* The quote is taken from Oliver Latsch’s translation, as found on Google Books)
Read this if: if you are into children lit, this is a good choice. Also, if you buy into the usual image of Venice as a magical city.
Counts as: Venice in February Challenge book #2