Stravaganza City of Masks

Stravaganza City of Masks

by Mary Hoffman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781599907680
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/01/2011
Series: Stravaganza , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 375,642
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 10 Years

About the Author

Mary Hoffman is a bestselling author and editor of the British children's review magazine Armadillo. Her love for Italy and Italian history has infused her Stravaganza series, which has earned glowing reviews. She has three grown daughters and lives with her husband in a big old converted barn in West Oxfordshire, England.
Mary Hoffman is an acclaimed children's writer and critic. She is the author of the bestselling picture book Amazing Grace. Her Stravaganza sequence for Bloomsbury is so popular it has 80 current stories on Her previous books for Bloomsbury also include: The Falconer's Knot (shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award and winner of the French Prix Polar Jeunesse 2009) and Troubadour (shortlisted for the Costa Book Award). Mary has three grown-up children and lives with her husband in West Oxfordshire.

To follow Mary's thoughts on books and writing, go to

Mary Hoffman is an acclaimed children's writer and critic. She is the author of the bestselling picture book Amazing Grace. Her Stravaganza sequence for Bloomsbury is so popular it has 80 current stories on Her previous books for Bloomsbury also include: The Falconer's Knot (shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award and winner of the French Prix Polar Jeunesse 2009), Troubadour (nominated for the 2010 Carnegie Medal) and most recently David, a rich and epic tale based upon the creation of Michaelangelo's renowned statue of David. Mary lives with her husband in West Oxfordshire. To follow Mary's thoughts on books and writing, go to

Read an Excerpt


City of Masks
By Mary Hoffman


Copyright © 2002 Mary Hoffman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1582347913

Chapter One

The Marriage with the Sea

Light streamed on to the Duchessa's satin bedcovers as her serving-woman flung open the shutters.

'It's a beautiful day, Your Grace,' said the young woman, adjusting her mask of green sequins.

'It's always a beautiful day on the lagoon,' said the Duchessa, sitting up and letting the maid put a wrapper round her shoulders and hand her a cup of hot chocolate. She was wearing her night-mask of black silk. She looked closely at the young woman. 'You're new, aren't you?'

'Yes, your Grace,' she curtsied. 'And if I may say so, what an honour it is to be serving you on such a great day!'

She'll be clapping her hands next, thought the Duchessa, sipping the dark chocolate.

The maid clasped her hands ecstatically. 'Oh your Grace, you must so be looking forward to the Marriage!'

'Oh, yes,' said the Duchessa wearily. 'I look forward to it just the same every year.'

* * *

The boat rocked precariously as Arianna stepped in, clutching her large canvas bag.

'Careful!' grumbled Tommaso, who was handing his sister into the boat. 'You'll capsize us. Why do you need so much stuff?'

'Girls need a lot of things,' Arianna answered firmly, knowing that Tommaso thought everything female a great mystery.

'Even for oneday?' asked Angelo, her other brother.

'Today's going to be a long one,' Arianna said even more firmly and that was the end of it.

She settled in one end of the boat gripping her bag on her knees, while her brothers started rowing with the slow sure strokes of fishermen who spent their lives on the water. They had come from their own island, Merlino, to collect her from Torrone and take her to the biggest lagoon festival of the year. Arianna had been awake since dawn.

Like all lagooners, she had been going to the Marriage with the Sea since she was a small child, but this year she had a special reason for being excited. She had a plan. And the things she had in her heavy bag were part of it.

* * *

'I'm so sorry about your hair,' said Lucien's mother, biting her lip as she restrained herself from her usual comfort gesture of running her hand across his curly head. The curls weren't there any more and she didn't know how to comfort him, or herself.

'It's all right, Mum,' said Lucien. 'I'll be in fashion. Lots of boys at school even shave theirs off.'

They didn't mention that he wasn't well enough to go to school. But it was true that he didn't mind too much about the hair. What really bothered him was the tiredness. It wasn't like anything he had ever felt before. It wasn't like being knackered after a good game of football or swimming fifty lengths. It had been a long time since he'd been able to do either of those.

It was like having custard in your veins instead of blood, getting exhausted just trying to sit up in bed. Like drinking half a cup of tea and finding it as difficult as climbing Everest.

'It doesn't affect everyone so badly,' the nurse had said. 'Lucien's one of the unlucky ones. But it has no relation to how well the treatment is working.'

That was the trouble. Feeling as drained and exhausted as he did, Lucien couldn't tell whether it was the treatment or the disease itself that was making him feel so terrible. And he could tell that his parents didn't know either. That was one of the scariest things, seeing them so frightened. It seemed as if his mother's eyes filled with tears every time she looked at him.

And as for Dad - Lucien's father had never talked to him properly before he became ill, but they had got on pretty well. They used to do things together - swimming, going to the match, watching TV. It was when they couldn't do anything together any more that Dad started really talking to him.

He even brought library books into the bedroom and read to him, because Lucien didn't have the strength to hold a book in his hands. Lucien liked that. Books that he knew already, like The Hobbit and Tom's Midnight Garden, were followed by ones that Dad remembered from his boyhood and youth, like Moonfleet and the James Bond novels.

Lucien lapped them all up. Dad found a new skill in inventing different voices for all the characters. Sometimes Lucien thought it had been almost worth being ill, to find this new, different Dad, who talked to him and told him stories. He wondered if he would turn back into the old Dad if the treatment worked and the illness went away. But such thoughts made Lucien's head ache.

After his most recent chemotherapy, Lucien was too tired to talk. And his throat hurt. That evening Dad brought him in a notebook with thin pages and a beautiful marbled cover, in which dark reds and purples swirled together in a way that made Lucien need to close his eyes.

'I couldn't find anything nice enough in WH Smith,' Dad was saying. 'But this was a bit of luck. We were clearing out an old house in Waverley Road, next to your school, and the niece said to dump all the papers in the skip. So I saw this and rescued it. It's never been written in and I thought if I left it here on your bedside table, with a pencil, you could write down what you want to say to us when your throat hurts.'

Dad's voice droned on in a comforting background sort of way; he wasn't expecting Lucien to reply. He was saying something about the city where the beautiful notebook had been made but Lucien must have missed a bit, because it didn't quite make sense.

'... floating on the water. You must see it one day, Lucien. When you come across the lagoon and see all those domes and spires hovering over the water, well, it's like going to heaven. All that gold ...'

Dad's voice tailed off. Lucien wondered if he'd thought he'd been tactless mentioning heaven. But he liked Dad's description of the mysterious city - Venice, was it? As his eyelids got heavier and his mind fogged over with the approach of one of his deep sleeps, he felt Dad slip the little notebook into his hand.

And he began to dream of a city floating on the water, laced with canals, and full of domes and spires ...

* * *

Arianna watched the whole procession from her brothers' boat. They had the day off work, like everyone else on the lagoon islands, except the cooks. No one worked on the day of the Sposalizio who didn't have to, but so many revellers had to be fed.

'There it is!' shouted Tommaso suddenly. 'There's the Barcone!'

Arianna stood up in the boat, causing it to rock again, and strained her eyes towards the mouth of the Great Canal. In the far distance she could just see the scarlet and silver of the Barcone. Other people had seen the ceremonial barge too and soon the cheers and whistles spread across the water as the Duchessa made her stately way to her Marriage with the Sea.

The barge was rowed by a crew of the city's best mandoliers, those handsome young men who sculled the mandolas round the canals that took the place of streets in most of Bellezza. They were what Arianna particularly wanted to see.

As the Duchessa's barge drew level with Tommaso and Angelo's boat, Arianna gazed at the muscles of the black-haired, bright-eyed mandoliers and sighed. But not from love.

'Viva la Duchessa!' cried her brothers, waving their hats in the air, and Arianna dragged her eyes from the rowers to the figure standing immobile on the deck. The Duchessa was an impressive sight. She was tall, with long dark hair, coiled up on the top of her head in a complicated style, which was entwined with white flowers and precious gems. Her dress was of thin dark blue taffeta, shot with green and silver, so that she glittered in the sunlight like a mermaid.

Of her face there was little to be seen. As usual she wore a mask. Today's was made of peacock feathers, as shimmering and iridescent as her dress. Behind her stood her waiting-women, all masked, though more simply dressed, holding cloaks and towels.

'It is a miracle,' said Angelo. 'She never looks a day olden Twenty-five years now she has ruled over us and ensured our happiness and yet she still has the figure of a girl.'

Arianna snorted. 'You don't know what she looked like twenty-five years ago,' she said. 'You haven't been coming to the Marriage that long.'

'Nearly,' said Tommaso. 'Our parents first brought me when I was five and that was twenty years ago. And she did look just the same then, little sister. It is miraculous.' And he made the sign that lagooners use for luck - touching the thumb of the right hand to the little finger and placing the middle fingers first on brow and then on breast.

'And I came two years later,' added Angelo, frowning at Arianna. He had noticed a rebellious tendency in her where the Duchessa was concerned.

Arianna sighed again. She had first seen the Marriage when she was five, too. Ten years of watching and waiting. But this year was different. She was going to get what she wanted tomorrow or die in the attempt - and that was not just a figure of speech.

The barge had reached the shore of the island of Sant'Andrea, where the church's High Priest was waiting to hand the Duchessa out on to the red carpet that had been thrown over the shingle. She stepped down as lightly as a girl, followed by her entourage of women. From where they were on the water, Arianna and her brothers had a good view of the slim blue-green figure with the stars in her hair.

The mandoliers rested on their oars, sweating, as the music of the band on the shore floated over the water. At the climax of silver trumpets, two young priests reverently lowered the Duchessa into the sea from a special platform. Her beautiful dress floated around her in the water as she sank gently; the priests' shoulder-muscles bulged with the strain of keeping the ceremony slow and dignified.

As soon as the water lapped the top of the Duchessa's thighs, a loud cry of 'Sposati' went up from all the watchers. Drums and trumpets were sounded and everyone waved and cheered, as the Duchessa was lifted out of the water again and surrounded by her women. For a split second everyone saw her youthful form as the thin wet dress clung to her. The dress would never be worn again.

'What a waste,' thought Arianna.

* * *

Inside the State Cabin of the barge another woman echoed her thought. The real Duchessa, already dressed in the rich red velvet dress and silver mask that was required for the Marriage feast, stretched and yawned.

'What fools these Bellezzans are!' she said to her two attendants. 'They all think I have the figure of a girl - and I do. What's her name this time?'

'Giuliana, Your Grace,' said one of them. 'Here she comes!'

A bedraggled and sneezing girl, not now looking much like a duchess, was half carried down the stairway to the cabin by the waiting-women.

'Get her out of those wet things,' ordered the Duchessa. 'That's better. Rub her hard with the towel. And you, take the diamonds out of her hair.' The Duchessa patted her own elaborate coiffure, which was the exact duplicate of the wet girl's.

Giuliana's face, though pleasant enough, was very ordinary. The Duchessa smiled behind her mask to think that the people had been so easily deceived.

'Well done, Giuliana,' she said to the shivering girl, who was trying to curtsey. 'A fine impersonation.' She glanced at the amulet on a chain round the girl's neck. A hand, with the three middle fingers extended and the thumb and little finger joined. It was the islanders' good luck token, the manus fortunae - hand of Fortune - signifying the unity of the circle and the figures of the goddess, her consort and son, the sacred trinity of the lagoon. But it was doubtful that this child knew that. The Duchessa wrinkled her nose, not at the symbolism but at the tawdriness of the cheap gold version of it.

Giuliana was soon warm and dry, wrapped in a warm woollen robe and given a silver goblet of ruby red wine. She had taken off the peacock mask, which would be preserved, along with the salt-stained dress, along with twenty-four others in the Palazzo.

'Thank you, Your Grace,' said the girl, glad to feel the iciness of the lagoon's embrace receding from her legs.

'A barbarous custom,' said the Duchessa, 'but the people must be indulged. Now, you have heard and understood the conditions?'

'Yes, Your Grace.'

'Repeat them.'

'I must never tell anyone how I went into the water instead of Your Grace.'

'And if you do?'

'If I do - which I wouldn't, milady - I will be banished from Bellezza.'

'You and your family. Banished for ever. Not that anyone would believe you; there would be no proof.' The Duchessa glanced, steely-eyed, at her waiting-women, who were all utterly dependent on her for their living.

'And in return for your silence, and the loan of your fresh young body, I give you your dowry. Over the ages many young girls have been so rewarded for lending their bodies to their betters. You are more fortunate than most. Your virtue is intact - except for a slight incursion of sea water.'

The women dutifully laughed, as they did every year. Giuliana blushed. She had the suspicion that the Duchessa was talking dirty, but that didn't seem right for someone so important. She was longing to get home to her family and show them the money. And to tell her fiancé they could now afford to be married. One of the waiting-women had finished undoing her hair and was now briskly braiding it into a coil around her head.

* * *

Tommaso and Angelo rowed behind the Barcone as it travelled slowly back across the lagoon to Bellezza, the biggest island. On deck the Duchessa stood in a red velvet dress with a black cloak thrown over it, which blurred the lines of her figure. The setting sun glinted off her silver mask. She now matched the colours of the Barcone, was one with her vessel and the sea. The prosperity of the city was assured for another year.

And now it was time for feasting. The Piazza Maddalena, in front of the great cathedral, was filled with stalls selling food. The savoury smells made Arianna's mouth water. Every imaginable shape of pasta was on sale, with sauces piquant with peppers and sweet with onions. Roasted meats and grilled vegetables, olives, cheeses, bright red radishes, dark green bitter salad. Shining fish doused with oil and lemon, pink prawns and crabs and mounds of saffron rice and juicy wild mushrooms. Soups and stews simmered in huge cauldrons and terracotta bowls were filled with potatoes roasted in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and spikes of rosemary.

'Rosmarino - rose of the sea!' sighed Angelo, licking his lips. 'Come, let's eat.' He tied up the boat where they would easily find it after the feasting and the young people went to join the throng in the square. But no one would eat just yet. All eyes were fixed on the balcony at the top of the cathedral. There stood four brazen rams and in a moment a scarlet figure would come out and stand between the two pairs.

'There she is!' the cry went up. And the bells of Santa Maddalena's campanile began to ring. The Duchessa waved to her people from the balcony, unable to hear their wild cheers because her ears were firmly stopped up with wax. She had failed to take this precaution on her first appearance at the Marriage feast - but never since.

Down in the square the feasting began. Arianna sat under one of the arches, with her legs tucked under her, a large heaped plate on her lap. Her eyes darted everywhere. Tommaso and Angelo steadily ate their way through mounds of food and kept their eyes on their plates. Arianna was content to stay with them for the time being; the moment to slip away would be when the fireworks started.

* * *

Inside the Palazzo, a rather more refined feast was in progress. The Duchessa was disinclined to eat much while wearing her silver mask; she would have a substantial meal sent up to her room later. But she could drink easily enough and now that the day's farce was over, she was happy to do that. On her right sat the Reman Ambassador and it took a lot of the rich red Bellezzan wine to put up with his conversation. But it was her single most important task for the evening to keep him sweet, for reasons of her own.


Excerpted from Stravaganza by Mary Hoffman Copyright © 2002 by Mary Hoffman
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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City of Masks (Stravaganza Series #1) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazingly fantastic. Its located in 1577 Bellezza, which is very similar to this times, Venice. Mary Hoffman is a great author, & I can't wait to read her other books. If you like sight-seeing & beautiful cities, you should read City of Masks. I used to stay up late just read this great book. I checked it out of my library because of its cool cover, even though it was kind of thick. This book really gets your imagination going. This book will keep you on the edge of your seat, making you want to finish reading it. It is full of excitement and thrill. It is a romantic action, and mysterious book, that many readers will love. This book is fun if you are just looking for a distraction on your everyday books. It took me awhile to read it, but it was still very interesting. Lucien is ill, with cancer, and is bed founded. Days were ghastly, and nights were even worse. Terrible. He has found a talisman that when he drifts to asleep he transports or stravagates to a new world. In his regular world he is fragile & weak. In his new Bellezza he is well-built, strong, & tough. He soon finds out he cannot stay long, and has to wake up to enter his own world. Returning to Bellezza he finds himself in bizarre situations. He has help with a firework display, dove for gold, & saved Bellezza's precious ruler. He meets new friends, & maybe even a little romance. He has a great friend Arianna. When she grows up she wants to change the world, but something tragic and unexpected happens, and suddenly her world changes forever. The author of this book really described the setting very well. She described it so distinctly that I could picture it in my mind, & every time Lucien went back to Bellezza I pictured the same thing. There were very extreme parts where I couldn't put my book down. I even got distracted in my classes & started reading it. The author was very well at making unexpected suspense points in the book. I found it a little confusing, but then after I read a few chapters, I really got into it. Things that you will assume will, or will not happen, creating surprising events. This book is very great and fun to read. I can picture myself in Lucien's shoes. I cannot wait until I find another of Mary Hoffman's books. I can get soo caught up in reading that its scary. I like books that have a suspenseful plot happening then it just ends at the chapter, making me want to read on to the next chapter. The ending is fantastic and will make you want to read the sequals. When I was reading this book I found myself skipping other parts to get to the interesting parts. There was not one part of the book that I didn't like. It was all so great. I really enjoyed reading this heart-stopping novel. I would recommend this book to teen readers. I love this book and could read it ten times more if I wanted to. I was always anxious to turn to the next page. I give this book at least 4 stars.
phoebesmum on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Mildly entertaining juvenile; central character being a dying child rather casts a pall.
nm.fall08.c.payton on LibraryThing 8 months ago
this book is a riveting tale about a young man who is able to travel between two times/dimensions via a book that his father found in a house near his highschool. Lucian is a sick boy in his world going through recovery from cemotherapy for cancer. But as he starts to travel he realizes that there is complication that go along with it. the only way he can get to the other world is being falling asleep with this book in his hands. But, his body stays in his world just as much as it exsists in the other one.I like this book because its suspensful and very interesting. It's able to keep my attention when i read it.
keristars on LibraryThing 8 months ago
While City of Masks might not be a particularly revolutionary work, or the best thing ever, or anything, I find that it is a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a lot that appeals about it. While it is technically a YA novel, I feel that it doesn't really stick to the YA tropes, though the central character is a teenager, and thus I like to recommend it to people that don't generally care for YA novels.The basic premise of the novel and the rest of the Stravaganza series is that William Dethridge, while attempting alchemy in the 16th century, discovered a way to travel to an alternate universe Venice, called Bellezza. This alternate universe is very similar to our own, but with a few specific divergences - the most prominent in City of Masks are the shift of major Italian personages: the Doge of Venice is here traditionally a Duchess, the de Medici family are known as the de Chemicis. But, also, there are other things, like Christianity being less prominent, science involving actual magic, and silver being valued more than gold. People who can travel from one world to the other (through the use of talismans brought from the destination world) are known as Stravagantes, and Lucian becomes one when his father finds a marbled notebook at a construction site and brings it home to him. Lucian has cancer and is bedridden; the notebook is meant not only as a pretty present, but as a way for Lucian to communicate, because he is too weak to speak at first. One day he falls asleep while holding the notebook after being read to from a book about Venice, and when he awakens, he is in Bellezza.City of Masks follows several plot threads: what is happening to Lucian in modern-day London; the intrigues of the de Chemici family against the Duchessa; the adventures of Arianna, the first girl Lucian meets in Bellezza; and how Lucian settles into Bellezza as Luciano. The primary thread that ties everything together, from the Duchessa to her lover the head senator and scholar Rodolfo to Arianna and her family &c is the one involving the de Chemicis, who want to take control of Bellezza, preferably by killing the Duchessa.Along with the intrigue and adventure in the story (and the fantasy elements), there is a touch of romance, but not so much to feel out of place or overwhelming, like with Shannon Hale's novel Enna Burning. In fact, one of the things I like about City of Masks is that the plot feels very balanced and everything happens in a very satisfying way, without being too obvious early on or too bluntly done or whatever. It's very enjoyable and I've read it several times since I first discovered it without growing tired of it.My only concern about recommending this book freely is that Lucian is dying of cancer in his "real" life, and that might be difficult for some people. On the other hand, the ending is totally happy and satisfying, so it might be worth reading for that. I tend to forget about the dying of cancer part when I recommend the book to others, but having just finished another reread, that bit is fresh in my mind right now.
Kewpie83 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
As a series, Stravaganza is heartfelt, fun, engaging, and fantastic. City of Masks is a great introduction novel to the Stravaganza series. Perfect for girls and boys who like mixing their fantasy with a bit of real life!
meki on LibraryThing 8 months ago
QueenAlyss on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Great story, I loved it!! A kid with cancer goes to this other world of magic and adventure, truly one of a kind!
timothyl33 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
An enjoyable read for everyone.
pamelawalker on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Lucien is dying of cancer. His father gives him a notebook which becomes a talisman for Lucien to transport back in time to Venice in the 16th Century. In Venice at this time things are not going well the Duchessa knows her life is in danger. All girls over 16 must wear a mask so it is easy for the Duchess to foil plans. Excelllent read
blueluxen More than 1 year ago
“Stravaganza- City of Masks“ is the first book of a series of six novels written by Mary Hoffman and first published in 2002 in the UK and with a number of 352 pages. This novel is a good read for everyone. Lucien is a fifteen-year-old boy, who lives in London with his parents in the twenty-first century, with cancer. Using a talisman, he arrives unintentionally in the city Bellezza, that is like a version of Venice in the sixteenth century. There he meets Adrianna, who is his age, Rodolfo, who helps him understand how he travelled to Bellezza, and the Duchessa, who is the ruler of Bellezza. With them and with a few other friends, Lucien has to go on some adventures, in Bellezza and in London, which include saving lives and giving up things that are important to him in order to help other people. The book is a masterpiece and it is for everyone older than ten years. The novel made me emotional and you feel like you are a part of the story. Everytime when Lucien explores some new place or has to go on an adventure, you cheer for him and you are curious about how it will end. “Stravaganza - City of Masks” proves that it is possible to find friends, family, and love everywhere despite time and country It confirms the saying “when one door closes, another one opens” because sometimes things happen without having control over them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Autum_ More than 1 year ago
I stumbled upon this book in my library, and it was a great find! It was very interesting, something that hasn't been done a thousand times. It has whimsical qualities; it's set mostly in Talia (which is like an alternate version of Venice, Italy) and is a world full of magic, masks, and traditions. (It reminds me a bit of 'The Thief Lord', they are both set in Venice and involve magic; so if you enjoyed that book i'm sure you will enjoy this one as well). This book is great for anyone looking for adventure; and the characters are well developed, there are true friendships not just fluffy romance. A great read, I will definitely be reading the rest of the books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love thes book it is grat and a spenc bilding book
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Brittany Russell More than 1 year ago
I saw this at my school library and picked it up for the heck of it. I started reading it, and I couldn't put it down. It's a diamond in the rough, a fantastic book that no one has heard of, and if you read it you can be a hipster trendsetter and read an amazing series. I want more!!!!
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Athena4Books More than 1 year ago
I was combing the libary one random afternoon and was really bored so i was going through ALL the shelves when i randomly picked this book up. I was instantly enthralled and am now a huge fan of the series. It has action, fantasy, intrugue, and everything you could ask for in a series. PICK IT UP AND READ IT NOW!!!!!!! YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually found this book by accident, we were doing a project in the library where we had to take a look at some of the more unpopular books. This one had never been checked out. I checked it out on a whim, I was a little doubtful it would be any good. Yet here I am. The book is fantastic, simply the best fantasy I've read in a very long time!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago