Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Stravaganza: City of Stars - Mary Hoffman

When I was looking up Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza series online, I read a review which suggested that City of Stars was not as good as City of Masks, so it was with some trepidation that I picked up the former on Friday evening and began to read it. Fortunately, I was able to give the review the lie: City of Stars is every bit as difficult to put down as Hoffman's first offering. Lucien Mulholland still has a role in the book, but there is a new Stravagante now: horse-mad Georgia O'Grady, who spots a replica statue of a winged horse in the window of an antiques shop near her Islington home where she lives with her mother, step-father and bullying older step-brother, the repulsive Russell. After saving up for and purchasing the winged horse statue, she falls asleep holding it and wakes up in a stable in Remora, Talia - the parallel Italy. There she sees a live winged horse, the first to be born in Talia for a century, and considered a good omen for the Twelfth of the Ram. Remora is a city divided into twelve parts, each one related to a sign of the zodiac. She soon meets Paolo, the owner of the stable in which she has arrived, who is also a Stravagante, and then Rodolfo, Lucien (now Luciano) and Doctor Dethridge, now Luciano's foster-father. Georgia is mistaken for a boy, because of her short hair, flat chest and baggy clothing, and it is in the guise of a boy that she moves around Remora. She becomes caught up in the preparations for the big race, the Stellata, that is run every year in the centre of the city. This is similar to, but not the same as, the Palio that is run every summer in Siena in our world.

We learn more clearly in this book, as we did not in City of Masks, that the Stravaganti Talisman finds its way to someone who is unhappy in our world. Thus Lucien, who was dying of a brain tumour, is giving the Talian notebook that is his Talisman. And Georgia, who is being bullied endlessly by her older step-brother and has very few friends at school, picks up the statue of the winged horse. We also learn that a Talisman is left by a Talian Stravagante at a time of crisis, when extra help is needed in one of Talia's city states. Thus Lucien was called to Bellazza to aid Rodolfo in protecting the current Duchessa (by foiling an attempted assassination organised by the di Chimici family who want to rule over Bellazza), so Georgia is called to Remora to assist the Twelfth of the Ram, who are loyal to Bellazza (each Twelfth is loyal to a different city state of Talia). Georgia, with Luciano, gets to know the two youngest sons of the di Chimici family, Gaetano and Falco. The latter was crippled two years before the story opens in a horse riding accident, and in 16th century Talia struggles to get around using two sticks. He concocts a plan, with Georgia and Luciano, to Stravagate to 21st century England to get medical treatment for his injuries, with the intention of remaining in 21st century England permanently - just as Lucien lives permanently in 16th century Talia. A decision that will have far-reaching consequences for more people than just Falco.

This story is fairly complex, with lots of secondary characters, as well as primary ones, and there is a fair amount of politics in the plot, but it's still a gripping book.

No comments: