Imre and Mimi are gypsy horse traders in nineteenth century Budapest, and while life has never been easy and they are often poor – nearly starving, at times – they've survived on each others' love and that of their only daughter, Lenore. Everything changes, however, when news reaches them that Mimi's mother Anyeta is dying. She requests her daughter's presence so she can impart to her “secrets...things inside me that belong to her, and to her daughter, if she has one.” Imre is dead-set against this, for Anyeta has been nothing but a source of pain and treachery. He sees this as Anyeta's last chance to hurt them both.
There's a reason for the saying, “blood is thicker than water”, however. They eventually return to Anyeta's “gypsy troupe”, Mimi's old home. What they find is shocking: not only is Anyeta already dead, but she's been murdered. Even worse, Anyeta was possessed of a curse offering immense powers but an awful fate: that of eternal banishment within her own corpse after death, unless a transfer of blood is made to another living being...
Anyeta's been murdered, her blood spilled. Could her essence now lurk hidden amongst others? What follows is a tale of deception and seduction, as both Imre and Mimi are forced to accept mantles they never wanted. An ages-old evil has eclipsed their lives, and it's ultimate goal soon becomes very clear: Imre and Mimi's daughter Lenore, the perfect, youthful vessel for its whims.
Mannetti's first novel shows impressive depth. Flashbacks to Imre and Mimi's early romance are handled well. In lesser hands they would've been cumbersome and tiring. Here they are focused and emotional. Even the “gentling box” itself - and the terror it invokes in Imre – is cleverly crafted. This is indeed a very literary work; however, what makes it so? “Literary” is thrown around often these days, with perhaps little understanding of the term. When something is literary, it makes a statement on the human experience. That's what “The Gentling Box” does; that's what makes it so powerful.