Review Blog

Jun 23 2010

Stravaganza: City of ships by Mary Hoffman

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2010. ISBN 9780747592532.
(Age 12+) Recommended. Imagine what it is like to be Isabel, the twin who is always on the sidelines, who never quite shines like her brother Charlie. Isabel is so unhappy that she makes up an imaginary twin for herself named Charlotte, who was born 10 minutes after her and about whom she can feel a little bit superior. But one day she finds a velvet bag full of silver tesserae, beautiful mosaic tiles that transport her back in time to the sixteenth century. In Classe, a seaside town in the country of Talia, an Italy in a parallel dimension Isabel discovers that she is to play a vital role in saving the town from being overtaken by the Gate people, encouraged by Fabrizio di Chimici, the Duke of Giglia.
I loved the setting of Talia, which has all the richness and intrigue of 16th century Italy. The descriptions of pirate attacks and the land and sea battles were amazing. I found the map of Talia and the pictures of the ships used in the Sea Battle of Classe (1580), the historical notes and family tree really interesting as they added to an understanding of the historical period. Isabel's heroism in helping to save the Classe ships was rivetting as was the role that Andrea, the handsome pirate, plays.
As a Stravagante, Isabel discovers that she has strengths not just in Talia, but in 21st century London. The others in the Stravagante group, Lucien, Georgia, Sky and Matt, invite her to join their group and her confidence about herself and her ability to make friends grows. After her journeys to Talia, where she is greeted as a saviour of Classe and meets Arianna and Luciano who are also Stravagante, she finds that she is able to tackle things like swimming and manage to do them well. Even Charlie is impressed with the group of friends that she has and there is a growing romance with Sky.
This is the 5th book in the Stravaganza series following City of Masks, City of Stars, City of Flowers, and City of Secrets. It can be read as a stand alone, as Hoffman gives enough background about previous characters for the reader to understand what is going on. However reading the whole series from the beginning would obviously be an advantage. Recommended for readers who enjoy adventure, history and a touch of romance.
Pat Pledger

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