Stravaganza - City of Masks

Style: Average

Attitude: Take Care

In Brief: Travel between parallel worlds with correspondingly dissimilar religion. Complex issues of life and death. Accepted pre-marital relations. Coping with fatal illness. Strained loyalty between two worlds.

Cover of Stravaganza - City of Masks

Author: Mary Hoffman

Series: Stravaganza

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published in: 2002

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Various

Setting: England / Talia

Genres:  FantasyTime-Travel


  • Ariana is a 16-year-old girl from the islands around the lagoon city of Bellezza. She is independent-minded and wants to become a Mandolier, poling the boats around the city, even though it is a job reserved for men.
  • 16-year-old Lucien is being treated for cancer. He is transported while asleep to Ariana's world where he is whole and well and finds himself increasingly drawn to that world.
  • Silvia, Duchess of Bellezza, is "married to the sea" as a symbol of her city's relationship with the water. A cunning stateswoman, she and Rodolfo are lovers, an open secret.
  • Rodolfo, scientist & nobleman, has travelled between worlds and he befriends Lucien in Bellezza.
  • William Pethridge, an elderly 16th-century Englishman was the first to travel between worlds, but is now fixed in Bellezza after his apparent death in England.


16-year-old Ariana is drawn to the lagoon city of Bellezza in her world, while in ours Lucien, being treated for cancer, finds himself there, whole and well, when he sleeps. They meet each other and find themselves involved in the struggle for power between the Duchess, ruler of the city, aided by her lover Rodolfo, and their enemies.

Lucien is one of the Stravanganti, able to move between worlds in their sleep when touching a certain object, in his case a notebook. Rodolfo shares this ability as does an Englishman named William Pethridge. Time moves differently between the worlds: Lucien comes from 20th century England, while Rodolfo lives in 16th century Talia, analagous to Italy with certain important differences.


Family: Lucien and his parents are very close, and his illness serves to underline that closeness. Family ties are very noticeable also in Ariana's Talia.

Stravaganti: Certain people are able to travel while they are asleep; they appear to be deeply asleep but in reality are in a parallel world where they must fall asleep to reawaken in their original place.

Life & Death: This matter is more complicated than it might be because it seems that if a Stravagante dies when he is travelling, he remains in the other world, alive. Lucien's cancer worsens, and his parents take his extended sleep — due in reality to his travelling — to be a coma and decide to turn off his life-support machine. It is clear that he was close to death in any case and, outside the bounds of the story, the decision seems ethical.

Religion: The people of Talia, in Ariana's world, and of Bellezza in particular, enjoy a slightly mixed religion. In name, they are Christians, and their patron saint is Mary Magdalene, but they retain an amount of superstition particularly as regards their city's relationship with the sea. It doesn't look as though the author is making a particular point, rather putting in some local colour

Saturday 2nd August 2003