The Gondoliers: The Secret Journals of Fanticulous Glim
‘’The Gondoliers: The Secret Journals of Fanticulous Glim’’ is an early young-adult fantasy novel by Paolo Mazzucato, published in 2019 by BepiBooks. Set in turn-of-the-century Venice, Italy, the story follows the journey of Fantina, a 15-year-old orphan who arrives searching for fortune and glory and a place to call home after the recent death of her father. What she finds, however, is a fanciful world where, with each magical sunset, Leo, the winged lion of Venice, wakes to lead the secret Guild of Gondoliers in defending the city from harm. But a sinister plot to destroy Venice and steal the hidden treasure of Marco Polo is afoot, and Fantina must join with the Gondoliers and discover her inner strength to fight the dark forces now awakened in the night.
The setting is 1902 Venice, Italy, where history and tradition are met with the innovations of a new century. Steam-powered vaporetti chug through the Grand Canal while the flooded piazzas and walkways are teeming with people…some filled with new and inventive ideas.
Fifteen-year-old Fantina leaps from the bow of a vaporetto onto the flooded walkway of the Riva degli Schiavoni, near Piazza San Marco. She is enchanted by the life and bustle of the city where “hope springs eternal” and encounters a young street vendor, Enzo, trying to sell the latest in new-century “gizmology,” water-walking shoes. Though impressed with Enzo’s clever invention, Fantina continues on her way. She is searching for fortune and glory…and for the Church of San Lorenzo, where she hopes to find her Uncle Gio…and a place to stay.
Uncle Gio is hard at work restoring the frescoes painted on the walls that recount the ancient stories of Venice. He welcomes Fantina, uncertain though if he’s up to the task of being the “family” that she needs. Fantina, not wanting to admit she is anything but independent, agrees to stay, but only for a while.
That evening, while looking out over the rooftops of Venice, Fantina sees a strange, shimmering pulse rise over the city as the sun sinks below the horizon. Curious, she steps out onto the rooftop of her uncle’s home to follow an unusual pigeon that suddenly transforms into a tiny feather-winged faerie. Startled, Fantina tumbles off the roof. She is saved, though, when two frogs leap up from the canal below, transforming into gangly Frogmen who catch Fantina and bring her safely to the ground. They immediately dive back into the canal and swim away. Fantina, puzzled by the magical turn of events, gives chase.
Dashing through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways and canals, Fantina loses her way. Unsure of which way to turn, Fantina is surprised by three bandits who emerge in the night. The bandits turn out to be Pantegane, giant rats also transformed by whatever power seems to be at work in the Venetian night. Fantina is rescued from the giant Ratters by Leo, the winged lion of Venice who soars down from the rooftops and warns her not to wander the streets alone. Alarmed, Fantina flees and stumbles headlong into Piazza San Marco where the Venetian Carnevale is in full swing.
Seeing the festival, with crowds of street performers, acrobats, and people in their elaborate Carnevale costumes, Fantina begins to second-guess the magical transformations she just witnessed. She encounters a spry, old woman, Contessa, dressed as a fortune-teller and a sideshow fire-breather named Cosimo who turn out to be the grandmother and uncle of the young street vendor, Enzo, whom Fantina met earlier. With a friendly nudge from Contessa, Enzo agrees to see Fantina safely home.
When Fantina arrives back home, however, Uncle Gio is not happy about her little nighttime adventure. He seems to know more than he is willing to say about the mysteries of Venice which is exactly why the sinister Signore Massimo Malvagio visits him.
Malvagio is a charlatan and swindler who has conned the Mayor of Venice into financing his public works project that will ostensibly help protect Venice from regular flooding with the construction of a defensive seawall. But in truth, Malvagio is searching for the lost treasure of the famed explorer Marco Polo and will stop at nothing to get it. Fantina and Enzo flee, pursued by Malvagio’s gang of Ratters who seize Uncle Gio and carry him away.
After a harrowing escape. Enzo takes Fantina to hide in the headquarters of the secretive Guild of Gondoliers. Contessa, Cosimo, and a small group of other Carnevale performers are part of the group tasked centuries ago with protecting the city from harm with the help of the city Sentries, statues like Leo and the Quadriga horses on the balcony of St Mark’s Basilica that comes to life each night through the power of “Glim,” an energy born of the city’s eternal hope that, unfortunately, seems to be fading with each passing day.
Cosimo and his Gondoliers depart to search for Uncle Gio, ordering Enzo to stay hidden and keep Fantina out of further trouble. But when the Frogman patrol arrives to report that Malvagio has been spotted steaming toward the island of Burano, Fantina decides that she must go to rescue Uncle Gio immediately. Enzo, eager to prove himself a worthy Gondolier and put his new-century gizmos and inventions to use, agrees to accompany Fantina.
They speed into the northern lagoon in Enzo’s steam-powered gondola and find Uncle Gio as he is forced to decipher the stolen, ancient journal of Marco Polo, the Milione, to lead Malvagio to a first clue—a veil of antique lace that may hold the secret to finding the treasure. Fantina and Enzo manage to sneak Uncle Gio away while Malvagio and his Ratters fight back a horde of Venetian dolls that come to life to protect the first clue.
Uncle Gio insists on reporting Malvagio’s nefarious scheme but quickly learns that the Mayor is completely under Malvagio’s sway. Uncle Gio is arrested, and Fantina and Enzo decide to go after the treasure themselves to thwart Malvagio’s plan to steal it.
On the cursed island of Poveglia, Fantina, and Enzo encounter the ghosts of the many Venetians who died centuries past from the Plague. The ghosts, however, turn out to be quite cooperative and help Fantina and Enzo uncover the next clue to finding the treasure.
To the island of glassblowers, Murano, Fantina and Enzo go. But Malvagio has tracked them down, and only the arrival of Cosimo and the Gondoliers saves Fantina and Enzo from capture. But after a steam-powered chase through the canals of Venice and the chaos created when the chase decimates the Carnevale regatta boat parade along the Grand Canal, public fear erodes the Glim further, and the power is no longer strong enough to bring Leo and the sentinels to life. Fantina is arrested and jailed in the prison of the Ducal Palace, and the Gondoliers retreat into their secret, hidden world.
But given command of the entire force of Venetian Carabinieri police, Malvagio cracks down on the city, arresting anyone who might stand against him. He tracks down the remaining Gondoliers to their secret headquarters and floods them out.
All seems lost, and at the Mayor’s Carnevale Masked Ball, Malvagio no longer tries to hide his plan—He declares himself the new Doge of Venice and reveals that he intends to drain the Venetian Lagoon so that he can find the treasure, and afterward fill it in to create a bigger, better…and drier Venice.
But Enzo, Cosimo, and the Gondoliers from ages past rally Venetians to fight Malvagio and his Ratter army, even as they learn that Malvagio’s seawall has already been raised. Huge water pumps have just finished draining the lagoon outside the palace walls, and Venice has begun to erode and crumble without the sea around it.
Malvagio flees into the dry lagoon bed with his Ratter army toward an uncovered island monastery, the final resting place of the treasure according to one last deciphered clue, but Fantina, with renewed hope, causes the city’s Glim to rise once again. Even greater than before, the powerful, shimmering pulse reanimates Leo and every other statue in Venice. Fantina, the Gondoliers, and the entire previously unseen magical world clash with Malvagio and his forces on the surreal battlefield of the drained Venetian lagoon.
Utterly defeated, and his seawall destroyed, Malvagio is swallowed by the sea when it comes rushing back into the lagoon, and though all Fantina finds when she enters the presumed Marco Polo treasure chamber is an empty room, she realizes that the real treasure she has found is the family and home into which she has been welcomed.
The Carnevale festivities continue into the evening as the city celebrates its heroes, Fantina, Enzo, and the Gondoliers. Leo, happy to see Venice filled with hope once again, has one more treasure to reveal. With Fantina astride, he plunges beneath the magical waters of the Venetian lagoon to a sunken ship. And there, Fantina finds fortune and glory beyond all imagination…the treasure of Marco Polo.
Fantina: The principal character. Fantina fancies herself a bold explorer. She is independent, ingenious, and crafty. She is described as a bit of a troublemaker who chooses to dive in and hope for the best.
Enzo: A young street vendor, “gizmologist” inventor, and Gondolier in training who befriends Fantina and introduces her to the Guild of Gondoliers.
Leo: The winged lion of Venice. The statue sentinel watches over the city from his perch high above St. Mark’s Square and comes to life every evening through the power of Glim.
Massimo Malvagio: A devious gentleman of Venice, who cons the Mayor and residents into supporting his public works project to protect Venice from flooding. In truth, he cares nothing for Venice and will stop at nothing to find the lost treasure of Marco Polo.
Uncle Gio: Fantina’s ‘uncle.’ A restoration expert, he is the keeper of the city’s history and secrets.
Contessa: Enzo’s grandmother and the matriarch of the Guild of Gondoliers.
Cosimo: Enzo’s uncle and the leader of the Gondoliers. Gruff but devoted to the city and its safety.