Kai Meyer's engaging fantasy portrays Venice as a city alive with wonder--stone lions pad with heavy paws on the canal banks and sometimes fly (as steeds for the Venetian Guard); the canals are full of mermaids with wide shark jaws, and the island city has been under siege by Egypt for 36 years. Only the power of The Flowing Queen, the mysterious spirit of the waters, has kept the city safe. But now the essence of the Queen has been stolen by traitors within the government, and the powers of Hell are offering a blood treaty. Two orphan girls, Merle, 14, and blind Junipa, 13, have become apprentices at the workshop of Arcimboldo, the maker of magic mirrors. He treats them kindly and restores gentle Junipa's sight by replacing her eyes with two round silvery bits of mirror. Merle soon emerges as the more adventurous of the two, and experienced fantasy readers are not surprised when she is given a quest to save the doomed city. American readers of this German bestseller will be reminded of Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord
, by the intriguing mix of actual Venetian locations and a fantasy underworld, and also Neil Gaiman's Coraline
, by the matter-of-fact acceptance of grotesqueries. In this unusually short (for fantasy) initial volume, Kai Meyer has planted enough backstory, hints, foreshadowings, and unanswered questions to fuel several sequels. (12 and up) --Patty Campbell
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5-8–This inventive and original fantasy is set among the canals of a fantastical medieval Venice and grounded by powerful imagery of light and shadow, stone and water. Two orphans are apprenticed to a magical mirror maker. Junipa, 13, is blind, but is given her sight in a magical but dangerous process. Merle, 14, is impulsive, courageous, and already the owner of a magic mirror. She finds herself at the center of the struggle for the survival of Venice in the face of the invading Egyptian army that is besieging it. The city has been kept safe thus far by the Flowing Queen, but now her spirit has been trapped in a glass vial. When Merle comes into possession of this vial, she is commanded by the Flowing Queen to drink the water in it, thus imbibing her spirit and voice. She then has to free Vermithrax, a flying lion of living stone long held prisoner by the Venetian authorities, as the first step in the process of ensuring the safety of the city. A powerful mix of political intrigue, adventure, and magic, the novel is peopled with believable and likable human characters along with mermaids, both feared and enslaved by humans; lions of living stone; and a fearsome and horrifying representative of the Kingdom of Hell. The Water Mirror
is a standout in this year's crowded field of fantasy novels, and will have readers clamoring for the next entry in the series.–Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
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