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The Gentling Box / Lisa Mannetti

Dark Hart Press / October 2008
Reviewed by: Martel Sardina

Lisa Mannetti’s debut novel, The Gentling Box, was on this reviewer’s short list of must-reads. As a child, I heard many stories about gypsies, and none of them had happy endings. Gypsies were to be feared, not trusted. And while it might seem slightly ridiculous, the mere thought of reading a novel about gypsies stirred up some of those childhood fears.

The novel opens in June of 1864. Imre, a half-gypsy horse trader, is near death having been afflicted with a disfiguring disease as a result of encounters with the powerful sorceress, Aneyeta. Imre has a decision to make. Will he claim the hand of the dead in order to stop Aneyeta and save his daughter, Lenore? Before he can decide, he must reflect on events leading up to this fateful moment.

While the story itself is written well, Manetti missteps a bit in her narrative structure. The first five pages are set in the present. Then Manetti takes readers back nearly a year in time to recount the pain and suffering Aneyeta has brought to Imre and his family with the intention of demonstrating why Aneyeta must be stopped. While the reader is ultimately brought back full circle to the present-set opening, I found myself wishing that the first five pages had been cut from the manuscript. As a reader, I would have enjoyed the story more if I had not known some of the details revealed in the opening pages – or the back cover copy. Going in, I felt like I knew too much about what was to come. At times, I felt like I was waiting for what I expected to happen instead of being surprised by the story as it unfolded. Telling the story in chronological order would have improved the story’s pacing – as well as added an element of surprise.

There were also many references throughout the book to the various characters’ eye colors. In some of the scenes, it’s clear that the author’s intent is to help the reader differentiate between when Aneyeta’s spirit is present and when it’s speaking through her host. But these continued references are distracting and left this reader wondering if there was some other connection between gypsy lore and eye color.

That said, Mannetti does a very good job with the characterizations and creating a believable setting. The reader is able to empathize with Imre and truly understand why the choice to stop Aneyeta is such a difficult one. The inclusion of the Romany language in the characters’ dialogue adds an additional layer of depth and authenticity, and the transitions to explain the foreign phrases are seamless.

From a stylistic standpoint, Mannetti does a good job of keeping the language true to the time period. Aside from a few times when the language feels a bit too contemporary, the reader will be left with an overall feeling of authenticity from Mannetti’s 1860’s Hungary. It’s apparent that the author went to great lengths to research the time period and gypsy culture to get the details just right. As a reader, this reviewer’s enjoyment of the story was enhanced by her efforts.

The Gentling Box is a solid effort from debut novelist Mannetti. Here’s hoping that readers will be enjoying more of her tales in the years to come.

Purchase The Gentling Box, by Lisa Mannetti.

Posted on Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 09:20AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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