Review: City of Masks

City of Masks (Stravaganza, #1)

Title: City of Masks

Author: Mary Hoffman

Publication Date: September 9th 2004

Length: 352 pages (Paperback)

Series: Stravaganza #1

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Lucien is seriously ill but his life is transformed when an old Italian notebook gives him the power to become a stravagante, a time traveller with access to 16th century Italy. He wakes up in Bellezza (Venice) during carnival time and meets Arianna, a girl his own age who is disguised as a boy in the hope of being selected as one of the Duchessa’s mandoliers. Arianna gives Lucien her boy’s clothing and he is selected as a mandolier himself, becoming a friend of fellow-stravagante Rodolfo, the Duchessa’s lover, and saving the Duchessa’s life when she is threatened by an assassin hired by the powerful di Chimici family. For state occasions the Duchessa uses her maid Giuliana as a body-double but Guiliana commits the fatal mistake of revealing the secret to her fiance Enrico and a sequence of devastating consequences unravels. Meanwhile Lucien has met the original stravagante, the Elizabethan alchemist William Dethridge, and he begins to understand that he may be called to follow in his footsteps.


Quite a few years ago, 2007 I think, I went to the library with my mum. I think I was standing in the horse section when I saw it: City of Stars. It’s kind of weird because it doesn’t really fit in that category, but anyway, I was kind of bummed when I realised I had to read another book with a weird mask on it first, since it was the first book in the series. Thinking about it for a while, I decided I really wanted to read the pretty book with the black horse, so I took the first three in the series home with me. I remember that the librarian said something like it might be difficult for me to read them because they were a bit complicated…which of course only made me more determined to finish them all before coming back there again.

So I spent a couple of days by the pool that summer, reading, reading, and yes you guessed it, reading. To my big surprise, I absolutely loved City of Masks. I think Lucien must have been my first ever book crush, and I talked about the book to anyone who was willing to listen. Then I read both City of Stars and City of Flowers, which I liked, but not as much as the first.


About 5 years later and I have still not read the last three books in the series. So a couple of days ago, I thought, what the hell, and decided to finally read them. Then I remembered that my memory sucks, that I can’t even think about what I did a week ago, and that I therefore most likely don’t remember all I need to know to truly understand City of Secrets (the fourth book). So here I am, telling you about my re-reading of City of Masks. :)

So you wanna hear what I thought about it the second time around? :) I’m going to take your silence as a yes.

Let the list-making begin!

+ First of all, the world of the Stravaganza-series is absolutely gorgeous! The concept is wonderful and it must have been a pain to do all the research and then twist it into something new, but Hoffman did a really great job. She almost made me believe I could travel to Talia myself. The descriptions, the politics, the traditions and everything felt so, so vivid.

+ I really, really love the characters of City of Masks. Lucien, Arianna, Rodolfo and the Duchessa were awesome :).

+/- The change of narrators had a nice flow to it. Even though there were a lot of jumps in time and between characters, I was still able to keep track on what was happening. At the same time, I think Mary Hoffman could have cut back a little on the number of narrators, simply because the more important characters could have gotten more time in the spotlight.

+/- There were a lot of things going on all the time. This made the story very intriguing, but kind of messy at times.

+/- The reader is hit by plottwist after plottwist. Some were good, but not all of them. She could have either skipped, or better concealed the bad ones.

+/- The conversations between the characters were sometimes a bit forced and stiff, but most of the time I think the language fitted very well with the setting.

As you see, there aren’t many negative things about this novel. Not that I found anyway, but I think I might be a bit affected by my previous experience with the series. Re-reading the story didn’t change my opinion on it, which makes me very happy :).

So, if you’re looking for a trip to another, magical world, definitely give Stravaganza a fair chance :). It’s a great story you can enjoy no matter if you’re 11 or 16, I can tell you from my own experience :).

4/5 Moustaches


A Quote for You:

“Lucien thought again how convenient it would be to have a body double for all the difficult things you didn’t want to face.”

Alternate Cover:

City of Masks (Stravaganza, #1)



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