Mary Hoffman,
Stravaganza: City of Masks
(Bloomsbury, 2002)

Lucien is a very sick young man. Currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, he finds himself confined to his bed. But when his father gives him a beautiful old notebook, he discovers within himself a new talent, for Lucien is a Stravagante and with the right key, can travel between worlds. And in the Talian city of Belleza -- much like our own Venice -- Lucien is healthy, whole and finds friends and a mentor.

Arianna has had only one ambition for years -- to be a mandolier (think gondolier) on the canals of Belleza. The only problem is that only boys are ever chosen, and only the handsomest of those. Still, Arianna means to defy convention and present herself at the Scuola for training. The only problem is that the day the new mandoliers are chosen is one on which no one who is not native to Belleza is allowed to be there -- on pain of death. Arianna is willing to risk death, however, and spends the night hidden away, only to find in the morning a boy who is obviously not a Bellezan native standing boldly in the sun, only steps away from her hiding place. So she gives up her dream to save him.

But when Lucien and Arianna get drawn into the plots surrounding the Duchessa of Belleza, will either of them get away whole?

Stravaganza: City of Masks is a very enjoyable young adult novel and discovering the parallels between Belleza and Venice with young Lucien is a fascinating experience. The characters are well-done and believable, with an interesting relationship between Arianna and the Duchessa she despises. The bittersweet ending is also totally unexpected. This is the first of three novels and I am very much looking forward to the other two.

- Rambles
written by Laurie Thayer
published 28 February 2004

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