Wednesday, May 8, 2013

City of Masks (Stravaganza #1) by Mary Hoffman

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.

Released: January 1st 2002         Pages: 344
Publisher: Bloomsbury               Source: Library

First Look: ***** I actually was about to read this about six months ago, but it didn't work out.   I put in a library request, and it came in.  I went to pick it up and I was super pumped to start reading this and...they mixed it up, and somehow the library sent me another book with the exact same title.  And so my reading of this was put off for a few months.  But I loved the concept, so I finally went and got a copy.

Setting: ***** ALTERNATE REALITY VENICEThat's the concept that caught my attention initially.  I've never been to Venice but it sounds like a cool place and that's where The Thief Lord takes place (I adore that book).  The execution was alright, but definitely not as cool as I was hoping for.  I wanted details to make the setting sparkle and come to life, but I ended the book with only a vague impression of what the city was like. 

Characters: ***** Lucien was pretty much a flat character.  I never got any sense at all of his personality.  I still can't tell whether he's even introverted or extroverted.  I wish I would've gotten to know him better.  And anyway, he hardly did anything.  He was a passenger for most of the story.

Arianna had the unique problem of starting out interesting, but going flat as the story progressed.  Her desire to become a mandolier at the beginning gave her dimension and made her easy to connect with, but she gave up that dream awfully fast.  After that, she hardly did anything, as well. 

Plot: ***** The storyline itself had plenty of potential to be compelling.  Attempted assassinations, a city government about to be overthrown, girls disguised as boys (I'm rather partial to girl disguised as boy stories), etc.  Unfortunately, it moved quite slowly and was hard to get into, probably because I didn't care about any of the characters.

Some of the story's rules didn't make sense, or were too convenient.  For example, why could Lucien stravagate (travel between his home and Belleza, alternate reality Venice) during his night and end up in Belleza during the day, and return with little to no time passed, but as soon as daytime hit in London time in both worlds matched exactly?  That sentence didn't even make sense, but then again, neither did this rule. 

*highlight to read spoiler*  Did Lucien not care at all when he died in the real world?  What was up with that?  He didn't seem to mind at all.  He was just "Oh, I died over in London.  Guess I'm stuck in an alternate dimension where I have no family, only brand new friends that I barely know, not much knowledge of 16th century customs, and will never access the internet again.  NBD."  He just shrugged it all off.  WHY ARE YOU NOT FREAKING OUT?  Why are you not depressed, Lucien?  Mad?  Annoyed, at least?  Any emotion other than apathy?  Please? *end spoiler*

Uniqueness: ***** As much as I didn't like the rest of it, the concept was a fresh twist on time travel/alternate realities, with a time period and location not seen so often in YA books.

Writing: *****
My main problem was that the writing showed hardly any emotion.  There was nothing to bring the characters' emotions to life.  Sometimes, there wasn't even anything to clue me in on their feelings.  Also, there was some pretty jarring head-hopping going on that made me confused at times.

Likes: Unique setting!

Not-so-great: Um...so I read the entire book, skipping nothing, and I still have no idea what's happening on that cover.  What are they even sitting on?  I kind of feel like they're on that door-raft from the end of Titanic.  Is that guy hugging that other guy, or pushing him off, or wrestling?  Is that girl shielding her face from shrapnel or something, or is she swooning over this display of manly(?) semi-conflict, or did this impromptu wresting match wake her up from a nap?  Why is Kit Harington floating above all this?  (Because does that not look like Kit Harington?)  Why is that one dude glowing?  I can see his halo halo halo I'm sorry I'll stop now

Also: "...there was an alchemical accident--an explosion affecting time and space." Wait, what? That's it? That's all you're ever going to tell me about this seemingly catastrophic, important event? On its own, that explanation seems dodgy on purpose and doesn't even make sense.


Overall: This book had a cool concept, especially as I'm fond of alternate reality and time travel books.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to connect with the characters, or even like them, for that matter.  This made it hard to like anything else about the book.  The writing was jarring at times, and I felt no emotion from the characters.  Two stars.


Similar Books: It has the modern-boy-goes-to-past-world aspect like in The Book of Names, has some roots in alchemy like The Alchemyst, and kind of reminds me of Old Magic, though it's been so long since I read that one; I hardly remember it.

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