Book review

Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman (2002)

Part one of the Stravaganza series

Have you ever heard of stravagation?

It's the ancient art of time travel. This book will tell you how to do it. All you need is a talisman, taken from the world you wish to visit, and a desperate yearning need to escape from your own world.

The tricky bit, of course, is finding your talisman. Lucien manages it, without even leaving his bed. He has brain cancer and is recovering from the effects of chemotherapy. But his Dad brings him something he rescued from a skip:

That evening Dad brought him in a notebook with thin pages and a beautiful marbled cover, in which dark reds and purples swirled together in a way that made Lucien need to close his eyes.

It looks Venetian, but it isn't, it's Talian. Bellezan, actually.

The first time Lucien stravagates be doesn't realize what he's done. He falls asleep holding the notebook and wakes up in the beautiful but dangerous city state of Belleza. There he meets Arianna who is busy breaking the law by staying overnight in Belleza when she doesn't belong there. So she's on a dangerous adventure of her own, but she can at least spot an even better adventure when it walks out in front of her:

Arianna saw at a glance what she was going to have to do, though she hated him for it. She dragged him back into the shadow of the bell-tower and started yanking off her boy's clothes, unaware of the effect she was creating.

Suddenly there's a lot more in Lucien's life than losing his hair and struggling with the after-effects of chemotherapy. He spends his waking life at home in London and his nights in Belleza. He becomes apprentice to the charismatic Senator Rodolfo and discovers there are other stravaganti in Belleza from whom he can learn. But the stravaganti must beware because the scheming di Chimici family will stop at nothing to learn the secret art. And there is Arianna. There's actually more to Arianna than even Arianna knows ... but you'll have to read the book if you want to find out.

A fast-moving story of time travel, deception and political intrigue, assassination and kidnap. And I can guarantee the ending will catch you by surprise.

Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

It's a trilogy! Mary Hoffman has written a superb series following the adventures of Lucien and other stravaganti. Have a look at these:

If you are an older reader and you enjoy time travel,have a look at this brilliantstory by Susan Price:

And if you just fancy a totally absorbing fantasy that whisks you off to another world of magic and mystery, have a look at this super story by Diana Wynne Jones:

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