Cute. That a the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this book. Cute and mostly harmless. Adorable and sweet, but unfortunately just not too memorable. Like a decent fast food meal, it's satisfying but not too nutritious.
This is a story of a teenage boy dying from cancer in contemporary England, who accidentally discovers a way to travel to an alternate reality that closely resembles medieval Venice. He makes friends with a powerful scientist-magician and a perky tomboy-girl, foils a few political intrigues and, as his life ebbs away in the real world, realizes that this alternate reality quickly is becoming more real than 'real' world.
It's a book that seems to be aimed at quite young readers, perhaps age 9 or 10. It's gentle and sweet, with simple plot and easy-to-follow hints of the predictable plot twists, with never-too-real dangers, relatively harmless villains and generally happy resolutions to conflicts. The depths that could have been explored - in characters as well as the plot - were left uncharted.
There were a few points where it could all have been taken to the next level, to the place that can arouse strong conflicting emotions and create necessary tension- but they were sweetly glossed over (for instance, Lucien's experience of loss and dying, addressing the pain of grief, the difficult choices Silvia makes, the introduction of some ambiguity into the events - there were such opportunities for making the shades of moral grayness more prominent and more memorable!). Alas, any possibility of moral upheaval and emotional effect were softened and made sweet and cute and very easily palatable, which I thought was a real missed opportunity.
It's overall a feel-good book, probably unlikely to cause deep discussions between children and their parents, probably unlikely to change any kid's perception of the world, probably a lovely read on the cold rainy day when kids have to stay inside (however, I'm probably thinking of those long-away days of my own childhood when there were no video games and TV programs were quite limited, and library books were the perfect go-to entertainment).
It's a lovely book to help pass some time before moving on to better, more challenging literature. It has no teeth, it doesn't bite, and that may be a good or a band thing, depending where you stand on the idea of literature in lives of young readers. At least it does pass for a decent bedtime story.
Not a bad read, but you may find it hard to remember much of it a few days later. Interesting enough to finish reading it, but not captivating enough to pick up the sequels. 3 stars.