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Stravaganza City of Masks Hardcover – September 21, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews
Book 1 of 6 in the Stravaganza Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From the British author of the Amazing Grace books comes a novel, the first in a trilogy, about a teen stricken with brain cancer who travels between two worlds. In modern-day London, Lucien Mulholland undergoes chemotherapy treatments, but when he falls asleep clutching a mysterious book his father has given him, he is transported, or "stravagated," to an enchanting 16th-century Venice-like city called Bellezza, in the country Talia. Lucien can return only if he can get hold of the book again. In this colorful other world, rich with court intrigues and magic, he feels vibrantly alive, as opposed to his pain-ridden days back in England; his hair has grown back and he eats with relish. Bellezza is also where, as "Luciano," he meets lovely 15-year-old Arianna and Rodolfo, who created the book that acts as Lucien's "stravagation" talisman. Rodolfo explains that a stravagante is "a wanderer between worlds," and also the history of this magical travel. Now the secret brotherhood dedicated to keeping the two worlds separate is being challenged by a faction with evil intent. Soon "Luciano" is caught up in their power struggle and learns there is a cost when one cannot stravagate properly. The Renaissance backdrop sets an elegant mood for the time-travel toggling. This complex, at times slow-moving and somber story line may disturb some middle-graders, but the novel will likely intrigue more sophisticated readers, especially with its undercurrents of sexual tension. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 7 Up-Arianna wants to be a mandolier, but in 16th-century Bellezza, the city on the water in Talia ruled by the Duchessa, the training is open only to boys. Meanwhile, in 21st-century England, Lucien is coping with the aftereffects of chemotherapy. Holding onto a notebook rescued from the trash brings him strange dreams of a Venetian-like city, and soon he is in Arianna's world. She is outraged when he is chosen to enter the Scuola Mandoliera, and he plunges feet first into life in Bellezza, where he can escape his sick body. With the notebook, Lucien/Luciano "stravagates" between his home and the past, and is soon burning the candle at both ends. He soon becomes fast friends with Arianna and apprentice to Rodolfo, a favorite of the Duchessa whom Luciano rescues from an assassination attempt. Hoffman has created a dazzling world; vibrant characters; and a wondrous story of politics, intrigue, and youthful romance. Though some of the plot twists are hardly surprising, getting through them is rewarding. The author's gift for detail brings life to cathedrals, lagoons, and lace, and some of her parallels to Venice are clever, such as a Bridge of Sorrow instead of the Bridge of Sighs. As the book draws to a close, Lucien dies in England, but continues to live in the past. Readers of this fascinating novel will be thrilled to learn that it is the first in a trilogy.
Patricia A. Dollisch, DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 920L (What's this?)
  • Series: Stravaganza
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens; First U.S. ed edition (September 21, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582347913
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582347912
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
STRAVAGANZA: CITY OF MASKS, by Mary Hoffman, is a the first book in a brand new fantasy series which has all the signs of someday being a favorite. Through Hoffman's writing the characters and setting come wonderfully to life, and the result is a story that readers will want to revisit many times over, simply to drink in the magic.
The story is spun around the character of Lucien Mulholland, a boy living in modern-day London of our world, where he is bedridden from being treated for brain cancer. When the chemotherapy makes his throat so sore that he cannot speak properly, Lucien's father brings him home a blank book with a beautifully marbled cover so that Lucien can write whatever he needs to say. However, when Lucien falls asleep with the book in the pocket of his pajamas, he wakes up to find himself in another world entirely. What's more, in this world it is as though he has never had cancer in his life.
In Bellezza, a Venice-like city state in the country of Talia, Lucien finds himself swept up in the political undercurrent of the city, who's people and mysterious Duchessa are working with all their might to keep free from the clutches of the Chimici family. Lucien is taken in by the "scientist" Rodolfo, who explains thta the book was a talisman made to help people like Lucien travel, or "stravagate" between the two worlds. Lucien's companion and guide in Belezza is the beautiful 15-year-old girl named Arianna, who will wind up playing a bigger role in the city's fate than one would imagine.
I myself had never even heard of this book up until my attention was caught by its flashy cover as it sat on one of the shelves at the local bookstore.
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Please understand that all my reviews focus on the interests of my middle school students.

I have had the second book of this series in my in-class library for years but only recently had the money to complete the series. That led me to finally reading the first book.

Wow. What a read! Kids will love it when they try it. A plot that is easy to follow but still twists and turns and surprises! A fully realized alternate reality that is impressively real. A hero that is vulnerable but brave. A remarkably eloquent treatment of a teenager who is battling cancer. A heroine who is fiesty and independent in a male-dominated soceity.

This is the kind of book that as a reading teacher I long for: a book the whole family can read and enjoy together. I love it when my kids and their parents are reading the same book.

I will warn you of one thing: if you are a parent, the ending will move you. I don't think that gives anything away, at least not anything for which the foreshadowing in the book does not prepare you. Recommended to grown-ups and kids alike.
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Format: Paperback
My son was assigned this book for a 6th grade reading group and I came to amazon.com to find out more about it.

I am writing this review in response to E. R. Bird's review. That review made me question the appropriateness of "City of Masks" for 6th grade group discussion. My concerns came from a)the use of the word "sexual predator" for the Duchessa and b)describing the Duchessa as the moral equivalent of Mrs. Coulter in Philp Pullman's "His Dark Materials" books.

After reading "Stravaganza, City of Masks" I believe this book is indeed a young adult book (grades 5-7) and the content is appropriate for 6th grade group discussions. The Duchessa is characterized as typical of her historical period without too much detail. The book explores a 15-16 year old boy's struggle with cancer. The setting isn't perfect and the characters aren't perfect. It isn't a literary masterpiece but it is a fun read for a 12 year old.

"City of Masks" is an action book that tries to gently discuss dealing with cancer. I think the author is good intentioned and the Duchessa is an unrefined tool of the plot. I liked this book, it presents some interesting topics for young adult group discussion.
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Format: Paperback
Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman is the first of three books in a wonderful fantasy series.

Lucien is sick with cancer; he cannot go to school or even get out of his bed, but when he receives an Italian journal from his father, his whole life changes. If Lucien holds the journal while he sleeps, his mind is taken to the city of Bellezza. When he is there, he is completely well, and the more he visits Bellezza the more real it seems. Lucien then finds out that he is able to travel between two worlds; he is a Stravaganza. The problem is, the more he travels to this extraordinary city, the more he seems to vanish from his own world and his family. Will Lucien continue to travel between the two worlds or will he be stuck in a world that he barely knows forever?

I loved this book and can't wait to read the next in the series. Once you start reading, Stravaganza: City of Masks draws you in and you just can't wait to see what happens. You can fall in love with all of the characters and you really start to care about them. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to escape into another world; people of all ages can enjoy a book like this!
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