Book description from Amazon:
Savage hyena-like creatures threaten Venice - the Ravageurs are on the prowl and seizing men, women and children. On the night of 30 June 1846 Talina's parents disappear and she and her cat, Drusilla, are forced to go and live with her Guardian and his three savage dogs in his lonely tower in the northernmost edge of the city. Here she discovers that she has the ability to change herself into a cat, but changing herself back into a girl isn't quite so easy. As a cat she learns about the Ravageurs and how over the centuries they have become semi magical creatures, visible only to children in the human world, and that they are intent on destroying Venice. She is determined to save the city - it's time for desperate measures - and her adventures are about to begin.
The cover is gorgeous - all purple and gold, while the image of the Ravageur on the back cover is suitably hideous (my 8yo referred to this book as 'the one with the scary thing on the back'). I do wonder, though, whether the pretty cover would deter boy readers who are likely to enjoy the story. Talina is no girly-girl and the story is essentially a quest-type adventure.
I really liked Talina as a character. I do have a soft spot for bold girls and Talina is certainly that. Famous for her impudence and temper, she has the nerve to go against adult characters (who can be in the wrong) and to fight to save her parents and Venice as a whole. She also does develop through the course of the story and isn't quite the same Talina at the end as at the beginning.
The narration is third person, allowing some comment on and description of Talina from the outside and there are some wonderful touches in the dialogue. I appreciated the way some of the male cats spoke, showing their masculinity and roughness (like "dat's da troof"), and the fake French accents used by the Ravageurs to hide their true origins.
I haven't read Lovric's earlier Venice novels, so I can't comment on their connection, but I believe that this story does stand alone, with no need to read the others first. The story certainly felt complete to me, with no sense that I was missing something.
Once of the things I loved most about this book was the addition at the back of a section entitled "What is real and what is made up". These few pages precisely outline which elements of the story are factual and which are invented (unsurprisingly!). I would have loved this kind of detail as a child, and I'm sure my daughter will lap this up too. I was surprised at some of the small details which had come from historical fact; this section definitely added to my enjoyment of the book.
Overall, this is a classic children's fantasy with magical creatures, well-rounded characters and plenty of twists and setbacks.