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STRAVAGANZA by Mary Hoffman


City of Masks

by Mary Hoffman

Age Range: 11 & up

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 1-58234-791-3
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Political intrigue unfolds against the glittering backdrop of an alternative Venice, in the first of a promised trilogy. Fifteen-year-old Lucien copes with chemotherapy in present-day London, but when he falls asleep clutching an exotic journal, he wakes up in Bellezza, the Venice-analog of a parallel Renaissance Italy. This rare gift of “stravagation”—using a talisman to travel between worlds—brings Lucien the protection of a powerful nobleman and friendship with the headstrong young Arianna; but also entangles him in the maneuverings of Bellezza’s glamorous Duchessa against the wily Chemici (read: Medici) clan. Meanwhile, as his visits to Bellezza become more enthralling, Lucien’s body in his home world is slowly dying. Hoffman’s (The Color of Home, p. 1225, etc.) fast-paced plot tightly integrates the fantastic with the historical and frequent cuts between viewpoints ratchet up the suspense. Unfortunately, Lucien and Arianna are not particularly compelling characters, and are too often merely pawns in the intricate factional machinations. The story is dominated by the overwhelming personality of the Duchessa, but even her most devoted adherents admit that she is a “ruthless, selfish, stubborn, bossy woman”; many teens will lack the historical background to appreciate her motives. While Hoffman clearly adores the setting, Bellezza is too sketchily realized for the reader to care passionately about its political fate. The tidy resolution seems to leave little room for sequels; still, some intriguing minor characters and glimpses of other cities hint at a richer world than so far revealed. (Fantasy. 11+)