Review: The Mask Of Aribella by Anna Houghton.
Something pale was emerging out of the mist behind the boat, behind Theo. Something so strange and so terrifying that it looked as if it had come right out of a nightmare, with two dark eye sockets and a face that gleamed, white as a bone … A human skull floated in the mist, detached from everything.
The dead have risen.
(The Mask Of Aribella by Anna Houghton. P39.)
On the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Aribella discovers that she has a secret power. She can shoot magical flames out of her fingertips. Venice is not a place to stand out and the strange incident is witnessed by none other than the Doge himself. Afraid for her safety, Aribella runs away.
Then she witnesses a skull-like spectre rising from the Island Of The Dead.
Rescued by a secret organisation that exists to protect Venice, Aribella sets out to learn about her own unique magical skills.
However, Venice is in danger and the attacks must be stopped before the Blood Moon.
Venice is a setting beloved by writers of literary fiction and I am delighted to see it appear in a middle grade fantasy. The history of Venice – its art and architecture and gondolas -lend rich material to fiction. Anna Houghton has used this to brilliant effect, weaving in mask makers and the waterways and the infamous Island Of The Dead. She has also created a very secret society of her own.
Aribella’s powers mark her out as a Cannovacci – someone with magical talent whose duty is to protect and guard Venice. Like the best fictional societies it is rich in traditions. Every member wears their own unique mask, messages come in through the mouth of a stone lion and their secret hiding place is known as the Halfway Hotel. I was able to get into both the world and think that it offers younger readers an exciting introduction to Venice.
There are other kinds of secrets too, darker ones, that keep the plot rolling along and the reader guessing.
Aribella is a wonderful character, determined to get past the grief that has overshadowed her family life for so long. Her friends play a big part in the story too, both her non-Cannocacci friend Theo and her new friend Seffie. The conflict between her old and new life, and Theo’s acceptance of Aribella’s new role, all make a rich emotional narrative.
Middle grade fantasy is really having a moment and this will be perfect for readers who love the genre. It is also very much about friendships and family, so it would make a lovely introduction to the genre for readers who prefer contemporary fiction.
An exciting narrative from a new voice in middle grade fantasy.
The Mask Of Aribella is available from Chicken House Books now. RRP £6.99
Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House Books for my copy.