Thursday, October 13, 2005

Stravaganza: City of Flowers - Mary Hoffman

The third book in Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza series, Stravaganza: City of Flowers is set in Giglia, the Talian equivalent of Florence in 21st century Italy. This time a young man named Sky Meadows, who is the same year at school as Georgia, finds a blue glass bottle with a fleur de lys stopper on his doorstep as he arrives home from school. Sky is unhappy as he has been caring for his mother for the last three years; she suffers from ME. He doesn't know his father, so he must manage running his home alone with whatever help his mother can give when she is feeling a little better. When Sky Stravagates he finds himself in a friary, where he meets Brother Sulien, another "Moor" as the Talians call him. Brother Sulien disguises Sky as a novice monk called Celestino, or Tino for short, and he becomes involved in the preparations in the city for four weddings between members of the di Chimici family. He befriends a young street boy named Sandro, and meets the other Stravanganti who are all in Giglia for the forthcoming weddings. They are concerned for the safety of Arianna, Duchessa of Bellezza, who has been invited to the weddings; the di Chimici are engaged in a perpetual feud with the Nucci family, who are their greatest rivals in terms of wealth. Unfortunately, an attack is made on the wedding party as they're progressing from the church, and although Arianna survives, others do not, and Sky is one of those who are injured, although fortunately he is not injured badly. The head of the di Chimici family, who has declared himself Grand Duke of Tuschia (the region of Talia where all the leaders are members of the di Chimici family) swears vengeance on the Nucci. He also, rather inappropriately decides to ask Arianna to marry him, which she refuses to do, saying she does not love him and also she wants Bellezza to remain independent. Niccolo rightly surmises that Arianna loves Luciano, and so challenges him to a duel, intending to kill Luciano by using a poisoned rapier. In a scene worthy of Hamlet, Niccolo's rapier is given to Luciano (without the latter being aware it is poisoned), and Niccolo is killed by his own poison.

The plot of this book is even more complicated than that of City of Stars and there are even more characters, both primary and secondary ones. It requires some concentration to keep them all straight, particularly as the characters from 21st century England are given 16th century Talian names. For all that, however, I enjoyed the book and was disappointed to close it as Hoffman had made it clear that there would not be any further adventures featuring these characters (all the 21st century English characters had resolved by the end of the book to destroy their talismans).

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