Enchanting from the first, The Water Horse by Holly Webb weaves the spell of Venice around the reader. You can almost smell the salty sea tang, and see the vivid colours of court life, gondolas, and flowing dresses. We follow Olivia the princess as she slowly realises there is something going wrong in her beloved city; the magic is fading, the sea is encroaching and her father the Duke’s noble court teems with hidden intrigue. Enters a magical, mythic Water Horse, who belongs to a race of beings who guard and protect Venice from the sea.
The book is rich in imagery of this half magical, half real, world. Webb takes us on a journey of maturation and discovery with Olivia, gliding along the currents of a fascinating story, exploring the hidden shoals of a city folk, and mastering the seething flow of court politics. The plot is fast yet steady, expertly swirling action and context. One shortcoming would be that the scenes of high tension are written rather passively, yet Olivia is a brave, likeable heroine who shares both her faults and successes with the reader.
We navigate both the rocks and high tides alongside this princess of the waters, and it is a most enjoyable, charming adventure.