What a sad Stravagante!

‘City of Swords’ – Mary Hoffman


City of Swords - Mary Hoffman

City of Swords – Mary Hoffman

Desperately unhappy, Laura has resorted to secretly self-harming. But Laura is a Stravagante, somebody who can travel in time and space. When she finds her talisman, a small silver dagger, she stravagates with it to sixteenth-century Fortezza, a town similar to Lucca in Italy, where she meets her Stravagante, who is a swordsmith. But Laura also meets the charming and attractive Ludo, and falls for him. Their love for each other is tested when Ludo lays claim to the crown of Fortezza, and Laura finds herself fighting on the side of the Stravaganti opposing him.

So, Mary Hoffman brings the Stravaganza series to a close with ‘City of Swords’. It was a solid book but I do think that those who could access Talia at the end was just a little too easy for my liking; in my head, to be a Stravagante is something that is exclusive and a role the character had been chosen for, and I think this does get lost in the story.

But, my! What a sad Stravagante we meet in ‘City of Swords’! Laura is very different to the previous Stravagante and the issues Hoffman explore are quite thought-provoking and one that is every parent’s nightmare. The difficulty Laura faces in accepting her new role is unlike her predecessors and she often does not wish to return to Talia. I felt really sorry for Laura and her family after what she goes through and the twist towards the end of the book was really so unexpected, I felt like I had missed something earlier on! This twist really needed more attention and I think it would have been good if this had been introduced and explored earlier on in the novel.

Once more the story has a lengthy list of characters so it is either a good idea to read this book closely after ‘City of Ships’, or keep consulting the character list at the end of the book. I still found the characters and family loyalties a little confusing but liked the drama the extensive character list brought. Indeed, as the novel reaches its climax, it felt like there was tension and action from all of the the characters.

I really enjoyed reading this book and felt that the ending was nearly conclusive. Like so many films, Hoffman does not fully finish the story, leaving it open for further books in the series. I wish that it had been totally finished off because I would have found this far more satisfying, particularly as this has been quite a long series. What let it down for me is that it did seem a little rushed and I was keen to know what had happened to the Stravagante once they had returned to Islington after the final show-down.

True, the plot is a little predictable but this book is in keeping with the rest of the series. I think most of my enjoyment came from the fact that I knew this was the last in the series (I really hope Hoffman doesn’t open it up again) and the personal challenges that Laura has to face are almost reminiscent of Lucien’s in the first book. I would recommend it if you have already come this far in the series, just to see how it plays out, but don’t be surprised if you feel like the ending is a bit of an anti-climax.


A re-energised Stravaganza story

‘City of Ships’ – Mary Hoffman


Image courtesy of goodreads.com

City of Ships – Mary Hoffman

Isabel Evans has just made a very surprising discovery: she is a Stravagante, somebody who, with the help of a talisman, can travel in time and space to the country of Talia in a parallel world. When faced with the extreme danger that Talia presents, the normally shy and quiet Isabel is forced to dig deep and find strength she never knew she had, as she is plunges into a world of pirates, ferocious sea battles and deadly adversaries…

Just when I thought Mary Hoffman had covered all original ideas for the Stravaganza series, ‘City of Ships’ brought a fresh and interesting plot that I really enjoyed. This time set in a coastal town featuring pirates and a pending attack, ‘City of Ships’ felt more of a unique story compared to the rest in the series. I can’t guarantee this review won’t contain any plot spoilers, so if you are reading this without having read the earlier books in the series, then I definitely recommend that you check out my other reviews, for Mary Hoffman.

The town of Classe felt different to the rest of the cities in Talia and this might be because of the pirates and sea-faring espionage. The pace seemed to move a lot quicker and there was always the sense of impending danger to what appears quite a vulnerable province. I enjoyed the battle scenes on the sea because it was so different to the previous duals and sword fights in Talia but, admittedly, I did find it difficult to keep track of which ship was on which side.

Another refreshing part to this story is how the talismans have evolved. The present day Stravagante work more as a team and want to help their newest recruit, Isabel, understand as much as possible about Talia. Indeed, Hoffman throws a few surprises in along the way and whilst I don’t want to ruin it the for other people, I have to stay it made the book just that even more fantastical and enjoyable. I enjoyed the freedom that the Stravagante seem to have and the unpredictability of the journeys means that I just cannot predict how the sixth (and final?) instalment will develop.

I’m relieved that ‘City of Ships’ had more of a unique plot as I always feel that a long series is in danger of becoming repetitive. Instead, this was exciting and unpredictable, both for scenes set in England and Talia. I have enjoyed how this series has developed and certainly felt that this is more of a stronger plot than some of the others. Time travel meets war and tension, this book is a great read.

The Stravagante adventures continue

‘City of Secrets’ – Mary Hoffman


Image courtesy of goodreads.com

City of Secrets – Mary Hoffman

When Matt turns seventeen, he is shocked by how drawn he is to an old leather-bound book — especially since he is dyslexic and has never liked to read. But the book turns out to be far more powerful than Matt could have imagined. It is his talisman, an object that allows him to stravagate through time and place to a country called Talia. There, Matt arrives at Padavia University, where he meets other Stravaganti — including Luciano, who is in great danger after killing the head of the powerful di Chimici family in a duel. Together, Matt, Luciano and Arianna, a Duchessa in disguise as a boy, must fight the di Chimici family before they make a terrifying breakthrough into our modern world…

Mary Hoffman returns with the next book in the Stravagante series and if you liked her previous books, then you will not be disappointed. Set in Padavia, we are introduced to a new Talian location but, unlike the previous books, there is less of a focus on there geography and more on people, action and politics.

In ‘City of Secrets’ we follow Matt,the new Stravagante. He, like his predecessors, faces some modern, personal challenges to overcome and it is these that lead him to securing his talisman. The same characters return once again and they reunite to help Matt when he is in danger. Surprisingly, however, the Stravagante secret circle broadens a fair bit, with Matt’s girlfriend and Lucien’s parents finding out about the Brotherhood. I was quite surprised that Hoffman chose to do this, particularly with the offer that Matt’s girlfriend could “visit” Talia and felt that this lessened the magic of stravagation. Indeed, Lucien even returns to Islington a couple of times and I thought this did kind of go against the warnings he received early on in the series.

That being said I really enjoyed the politics and treachery of ‘City of Secrets’ and could not predict how the plot would develop. The ending is a bit of a surprise and, if I am completely honest, a bit of an anti-climax to what had happened previously, but I enjoyed the happy ending that prevailed. This time Hoffman finishes with an Epilogue and tied up all the plot strands very neatly.

I am really keen to see how the next story in the series progresses. It is clear that the political tensions from the di Chimici family are becoming more threatening for the Stravagante and I look forward to seeing them triumph over such a dangerous power. Definitely read this if you enjoyed the other books in the series because Hoffman keeps it fresh and enjoyable to read.

The last in a trilogy that is not

‘City of Flowers’ – Mary Hoffman

Image courtesy of fantasticfiction.co.uk

City of Flowers – Mary Hoffman

Sky doesn’t know it yet, but he is Stravagante: somebody who, with the help of a talisman, can travel in time and space to the parallel world of Talia. With his own talisman, Sky is transported to the Talian equivalent of Florence, Italy. He must beware though, for much in the City of Flowers that appears beautiful and ordered is in fact deadly. He is propelled directly into the midst of feuding battles between the rival di Chimici and Nucci families, who think nothing of sliding a knife between a man’s ribs for revenge. And as tempers are inflamed by the extravagantly orchestrated plans for a magnificent di Chimici wedding, Sky and his fellow Stravaganti need to do their utmost to avoid further bloodshed, safeguarding both the prosperity of the city and the personal safety of those they love. 

Since reading this book I have discovered that there are more than three books in the series. And I guess that there is scope for the story to continue beyond this third conclusion. This book continues almost straight away from the previous and the quick pace continues throughout.

I enjoyed reading this book but once again found the large number of characters confusing. This book introduces another new Stravagante and it is clear by this point that they are, in some ways, a social outcast in the present world. Again, this is set in a different part of Talia, but the plot still links back to the characters from the previous stories.

It was difficult to predict how the story would conclude because there were so many different aspects of the plot that needed to be tied up. I found this made the story all the more enjoyable and how it did eventually finish was completely unexpected. Knowing that there are more books in this series makes me curious to find out what happens to the characters and I look forward to getting my hands on them.

If, like me, you were slightly disappointed in ‘City of Stars’, this will restore your faith in the Stravaganza series. It is fast paced and with all the familiar characters from the previous novels, I found myself desperate to know how this adventure would conclude. It is great to know that the story has not finished and there are more adventures to follow in Talia.

For my review of the first novel in this trilogy, ‘City of Masks’, click here:  https://mrsbrownsbooks.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/masked-delights/

For my review of the second novel in this trilogy, ‘City of Stars’, click here: https://mrsbrownsbooks.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/the-second-novel-in-the-trilogy-that-moves-in-a-slower-gear-than-the-first/

The second novel in the trilogy that moves in a slower gear than the first

‘City of Stars’ – Mary Hoffman

Image courtesy of goodtoread.org

City of Stars – Mary Hoffman

Georgia would love nothing more than to ride horses every day and avoid her annoying stepbrother at all costs. But she could never have guessed that a tiny, antique winged horse figurine would be the key to her escape to another world and another time. When Georgia arrives in a sixteenth-century city called Remora, she is plunged into a dangerous and treacherous world of horse-racing, family honour and deadly rivalry. And there, as a new Stravagante, Georgia will have a dramatic and extraordinary role to play…

Continuing the series, ‘City of Stars’ did not grip me as much as the first instalment to this trilogy. Whether this was because the action has moved away from Bellezza or because it had the theme of a horse racing running through it, this novel took me longer than I expected and I found at times that I was a little bored.

Don’t get me wrong, Hoffman uses the same formula as the previous story and whilst the story is set in another Italian town, we are still reunited with Lucien from ‘City of Masks’. We are introduced to a new Stravagante, Georgia, and the author makes some clever links with her and Lucien in the present day. Unlike the first book in the series, it feels like there is a bit more of a focus on Georgia’s present day life, and this intensifies as the plot develops.

Whilst I found the book less gripping than the first, the pace certainly picks up half way through and the tension and excitement builds. The number of characters does become a little confusing and at times you do need to pause and consult the family tree! I think it was this that did take away a bit of the enjoyment because you are having to work a bit more at the story, rather than just let it take you along.

Although I found this book a little disappointing, it is still worth a read if you enjoyed the first book in the series. I liked the continuation with characters and once again, Hoffman’s descriptions do her credit with bringing this alternate, historic place in Italy to life.

For my review of the first novel in this trilogy, ‘City of Masks’, click here:  https://mrsbrownsbooks.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/masked-delights/

Masked delights

‘City of Masks’ – Mary Hoffman

City of Masks - Mary Hoffman

City of Masks – Mary Hoffman

Imagine you are one moment ill in bed, and the next transported to a world that is awash with deception, intrigue, and glamour. In a spine-tingling discovery, Lucien discovers that he is in fact a ‘Stravagante’ and with the help of a talisman can transport himself to sixteenth century Bellezza, a city inspired by Venice , and filled with unexpected danger.

Wish swishing velvet, glittering masks, political intrigue and treachery – and a demanding and imperious Duchessa – Mary Hoffman has vividly conjured up a rich, magical and compelling world, the first in the trilogy of Talia.

Take some teenage fiction and add mystery, masks and a spot of time travel and you get Mary Hoffman’s ‘City of Masks’. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is technically teenage fiction, as, like I am sure most of you are aware, this catalogue has dramatically increased in recent years, with books appealing to adults alike. And this novel is no exception.

Following Lucien through his adventure is gripping and at the same time quite emotional. The present day story is such a contrast to the Bellezzan adventures that you are almost always desperate to know what is going on in the ‘other world’. The plot is fast-paced and the switch between the different worlds frequently is like the end of an episode of ‘EastEnders’ (cue theme music). As the reader follows Lucien and learn more about him, the connection Hoffman establishes between him and reader is emotional; you want a happy ending, but at what cost?

Mary Hoffman has written a novel with pace and excitement. The two time periods are of equal importance to the development of the narrative and leaves the reader with conflicting emotions throughout. The descriptions of Bellezza (like our Venice) are so graphic and vivid it leaves you wanting to visit and explore the city for yourself, finding parallels to Bellezza.  You forget that this is not an adult novel and, like the blurb reveals, you finish the book in anticipation of what the next installment has to offer.

I would definitely recommend this book to read. It is so unlike a lot of the teenage fiction already out there and the characters (whilst there are quite a few of them) make this a delightful read; you love to love the good characters and love to hate the enemies! Indulge yourself in a bit of teenage fiction and I guarantee you, like me, will be left wondering what happens next to the Stravagantes.