Author: Mary Hoffman
Release date: First published 2002, paperback reissue 7th July 2008
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Target audience: 10/11+
Summary from Amazon:
Set in Talia, a parallel world very similar to 16th-century Italy, the narrative follows Lucien, who in our world is very ill. Given a marbled notebook to use as a diary, the notebook is the unexpected means that transports Lucien to this dangerous new world; a world that thrills to the delight of political intrigue and where a life can be snuffed out with a flash of a merlino blade. The city of Bellezza (Venice in our world) is astonishingly evoked, with a filmic eye to detail, from the sensuousness of silks and velvets, to the thrill and danger of assassination attempts both and foiled and successful. The world of Talia is unforgettably and convincingly real.
City of Masks is a wonderful story which intricately weaves the present world with a parallel fantasical historical world. This is every bit my favourite type of story and it was a delight to read.
Lucien lives in modern day England but his life is marked by his illness. He has cancer and at the beginning of the story he is undergoing chemotherapy to treat the tumour. Arianna lives in Talia, a parallel universe for want of a better description, which has a feel of 16th century Italy but has its own vivid natural beauty and is populated by a cast of eccentric characters.
Lucien unwittingly comes across a talisman which transports him from his world to Arianna’s. He is a Stravagante who has the power to enter parallel universes. The talisman gives him time without his sickness in Bellezza which is akin to Venice - a great water city surrounded by islands. He arrives in the city on the one day that it is forbidden for non-native Bellezan's to be there. Thus his first stravagation is fraught with danger because if he is discovered he will face punishment by death. But another person is in Bellezza when she shouldn’t be, the feisty Arianna, and so begins the meeting of their two stories and this exotic exciting historical adventure.
The characters in this story were all so colourfully drawn as was the world of Bellezza. The smells, the tastes, the rich setting, the atmosphere all transported me to this unfamiliar world and made me, like Lucien, fall in love with it. But the most breathtaking part of this story is the plot. The twists left me gasping and desperate to know more. The ending had me in turmoil. I wanted to cheer and cry at the same time. I lived this story with Lucien every step of the way. I watched the magnificient fireworks. I dived into the stinky waters of the canal. I hid in the secret passageway. You live every word.
If you haven’t started this series yet, you certainly should! I can’t wait to start the second book City of Stars. The Stravaganza series will appeal to fans of Theresa Breslin and Stuart Hill. Both happen to be writers that I love. Now I can add Mary Hoffman to my list of novelists who can weave stories which open a window into another world and make you feel as if you have walked through the streets, danced with the flamboyant people and risked life and death to do it. It’s love!