Disclaimer: I listened to this as an audiobook. And maybe I'm a bad audiobook listener? because, like the last book I listened to, I'm going to say that I don't think this is the best format for this book. It was read amazingly--great narration, on par with the Jim Dale reading I last listened to, and I understand that Jim Dale is the best, so. It wasn't the narration.
This is a story that builds slowly, with the characters and setting well-established before the true plot is really revealed. And yet, the lives of these characters, children who've run away form their homes and are hiding out in Venice, are so interesting and exciting that even a description of an average day for them is fascinating. You don't need to jump straight into the plot to be hooked. I love this Venice, how it's not washed clean of its grime or grit, but it's still totally a place you'd want to visit. And I love these children, who think they're tough and...are.
I went into this believing it to be fantasy. Then I thought I was wrong. And then, very near the end of the story, I think, I found out that no, yes, it is fantasy. Just...a little bit of very important fantasy, and I'm still not entirely sure that that worked for me. That magic where there had been no magic.
But I was convinced, when I was a child, that if I spent enough time in our cedar closet, I'd find my way to Narnia. And these children, street children with bad parents or no parents, need some magic far more than I ever did. All children deserve a little magic, and if they can't find it in their lives, they should be able to find it in their books. So as an adult, I read this book and felt a bit blindsided. But for children, their response might fall in between grateful relief and a not unexpected satisfaction. Depending on how desperately they are seeking magic.