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Stravaganza: City of Ships

Written by Mary Hoffman

Part of the Stravaganza Series

Fantasy / Magical Featured Books for 11+ readers Recommended Children's eBooks

LoveReading View on Stravaganza: City of Ships

This is a breathtaking time-travel story to a parallel world that’s packed with non-stop action, pirates and drama.  It’s the fifth in the Stravaganza sequence and it will electrify and delight. Intrigue, adventure, magic and excitement are the trademark ingredients for this series and for those new to it it’s not absolutely essential to read the first four particularly as the author, Mary Hoffman has very kindly provided a snapshot of the story to date. To view all the titles click here.

Below is a list of the Stavaganza series books to date in order of publication. Just click on a title to find out more.

1) City of Masks
   2) City of Stars
   3) City of Flowers
   4) City of Secrets
   5) City of Ships
   6) City of Swords



Stravaganza: City of Ships Synopsis

Set in Classe (Ravenna in our world), the Stravagante is Isabel, a younger twin by a matter of minutes. Her talisman is a pouch of silver mosaic tiles and she stravagates to Classe, where she is met by Flavia, a successful female merchant who trades spices, silks, tapestries, and whose son is an outcast and a pirate. Isabel finds that Classe and Bellezza are under threat from attack by the fierce Gate people. What can she do to help save the city? This is a thrilling story packed with action, pirates and drama.

Previously, in Stravaganza ...

New readers  can start right now, with the fifth book, City of Ships, but here’s a little run-down on what’s been happening so far. In each book of the series, a teenager from our world becomes a “Stravagante” (a traveller in time and space) and finds themselves transported to Talia by means of a talisman. Talia is a parallel world version of Italy, in the sixteenth century and when it’s night-time in our world, it’s day in Talia. Each teenager who’s chosen to be a Stravagante is unhappy, but for a different reason in each case.

City of Masks
In the first book, the Stravagante from our world is Lucien, who is seriously ill with cancer. He is fifteen and his beautiful black curls have fallen out because of his treatment. His father brings him a red and purple marbled notebook so that Lucien can write down what he needs when his throat is too sore to speak.

He starts to tell his son about Venice where the notebook came from and Lucien falls asleep, holding the book, thinking of a miraculous city floating on the water. He wakes to find himself in Bellezza, a place so amazing that he thinks he must be dreaming. But in fact he has stravagated; the marbled notebook is his talisman.

He meets Arianna, an island girl who has her own reasons for being in the lagoon city on a day which she tells Lucien could be fatally dangerous for both of them. Only she calls him Luciano, the Talian equivalent of his name. And so does the terrifying Duchessa, the elected ruler of the city, who chooses Lucien to be one of her mandoliers.

A mandolier in Bellezza is like a gondolier in Venice and Lucien is only saved from having to do what the Duchessa wants by someone even more powerful than her. This is the mysterious Rodolfo, who says he has been expecting him and shows him that he has no shadow in Bellezza – a dead giveaway that Lucien is a Stravagante from another world.

Rodolfo teaches Lucien what he calls science and Lucien knows is magic. Arianna teaches him the city. In Talia they are both vulnerable to the voracious di Chimici family and their paid assassins. Meanwhile, back in his own world, Lucien is still fighting his brain tumour.

More and more, it feels as if his real life is the one in Talia, where he is strong and whole, his hair grown back. He is sucked into the warring factions of di Chimici and Stravaganti, foils one assassination attempt and feels the fallout from another.

At the climax, Luciano’s life changes for ever and so does Arianna’s.

City of Stars
Georgia O’Grady has been horribly bullied by her older stepbrother Russell ever since her mother met his father. Russell doesn’t hurt her physically but he pours his scorn on to her in words so spiteful and poisonous, she feels as battered as if he had punched her. Russell knows her inmost fears and insecurities and plays mercilessly on them. She is socially and emotionally retarded in his opinion – an underdeveloped girl who still loves horses and has no friends.

It’s true that she loves horses and goes riding every week. One day she buys in an antiques shop a small black model of a horse with wings and falls asleep wishing she could be somewhere where horses could really fly. Georgia has found her talisman or it has found her.

She finds herself in the city of Remora, in the stables of the quarter of the city known as the Ram, where a winged foal has just been born, something that happens only about once every four generations. Her Stravagante in Talia is Paolo the Horsemaster and she quickly becomes friends with his son, Cesare.

But it is another boy she meets at Paolo’s house who really bowls her over. It is Lucien, someone she used to have a huge crush on in her own world but here he seems to be called Luciano. When she first sees him she thinks he’s a ghost.

Remora, like Siena in our world, revolves around a crazy horse race where the different “contrade” or districts of the city compete against one another. Each is named after a sign of the Zodiac and Georgia soon feels enormous loyalty to the Ram, whose enemy is the Fishes. It is Cesare who teaches her all about the alliances and enmities between factions.

But in another way, Remora is more like Rome, in that it is the capital city of Talia, where the Pope lives and he is another of the powerful di Chimici family. Georgia, Cesare and Luciano meet two brothers from this family – Gaetano, who is ugly but good-hearted and intelligent and his beautiful but crippled younger brother, Falco.

When Falco discovers that Georgia comes from a world and time where his injuries might be healed, he involves them all in a really dangerous plot. At the same time other people are trying to stop Cesare from riding the Ram’s entry for the Race.

In the end, Georgia has to do far more in Talia than she bargained for and it helps her to break free of Russell’s bullying hold over her.

City of Flowers
There are so many ways in which life can be hard on teenagers. For Skye, it’s because he has had to look after his mother for the last three years, while she has suffered from ME. So instead of an ordinary life, this seventeen-year-old is doing all the shopping, cooking, cleaning and washing, as well as his school work. He has no time for girlfriends, though several girls at his school – which is also Georgia’s and Lucien’s – wish he had.

Skye’s mother is a single mum and, when she is well enough, an aromatherapist. When he finds a blue glass perfume bottle on their doorstep, he thinks it has been left for her, but it is the talisman that will take him to Giglia. Like the others, he finds himself in a Talian city, this one very like Florence in our world.

Skye is bi-racial, the result of his mother’s one-night stand with famous rock star Rainbow Warrior, the father Skye has never met. But his Stravagante in Giglia is Black too, Brother Sulien, the friar in charge of the pharmacy in Saint-Mary-among-the-Vines, the one-time family church of the di Chimici.

This pharmacy is famous for its perfumes, the original source of the di Chimici wealth but is also capable of producing poison. Giglia is the most important city in Talia, even though Remora is the capital, and is ruled by Duke Niccolò di Chimici, Gaetano and Falco’s father. Although he is a ruthless and ambitious tyrant, he loves his family and is looking forward to the wedding of three of his sons and a nephew in the great cathedral whose bulk dominates the city.

But there is a rival family called Nucci in the city and they hate the di Chimici with a passion. Skye needs a guide to Giglia and finds it in a scruffy orphan Sandro and his rescued stray dog, Fratello. He also finds a second Stravagante, Giuditta Miele, a sculptor who has been commissioned to make a statue of the new young Duchessa of Bellezza when she comes to Bellezza for the di Chimici weddings.

Characters from the earlier two novels return in this climax to the first trilogy and, as well as weddings and perfumes there is sword-fighting, stabbings, poison and a massacre. Luciano has to get out of Giglia fast and Falco and Georgia have to come to terms with choices they made earlier.

In the midst of all this, Skye finds time for romance – and so, surprisingly does his mother.

City of Secrets
Luciano is now a university student, in Padavia, a city not far from Bellezza. One of his professors, Constantin, is a powerful Stravagante and runs the Scriptorium where books are printed, both official ones and secret, forbidden ones. The traveller from our world is a boy called Matt, whose problem is that he is dyslexic. Just his luck then that his talisman, a leather-bound collection of spells in a language like Latin, takes him to a place where books are made.

Matt can never quite believe his luck that he has a gorgeous and clever girlfriend, Ayesha, and fears she will go back to a former boyfriend, Jago, who is everything Matt is not. But in Padavia he becomes a printer’s apprentice, a cover story for what he is really doing, helping the other Stravaganti.

Two di Chimici suspect that the Stravaganti have the secret of time travel and are trying to wrest it from them so Matt, Luciano and others are in danger. The University of Padavia has an anatomy theatre which is used for dissection demonstrations and one day there is a dramatic  and grisly revelation there.

A colourful group of people we met first in  City of Stars, the Manoush, are in Padavia preparing to celebrate one of their goddess-festivals, the one that happens around the time of our Halloween. But the Governor of the city, influenced by Cardinal Rinaldo di Chimici, who was responsible for what happened to Luciano in City of Masks, has outlawed Goddess-worship and the penalty is death by burning.

Luciano, Matt, Cesare, Arianna, Rodolfo and even Enrico the Spy do their best to save the Manoush from the death penalty but meanwhile Matt has done something very stupid in his own world and the Talian Stravaganti have to save him – and his victim – from the consequences of his action.

City of Ships
Well, this is the new one so I shan’t say as much about it. Isabel is the younger by ten minutes of twins. Her brother Charlie is so much better at everything than she is that she tends to keep her head down and hope to be ignored.

But when she finds a bag of silver mosaic tesserae at her school there are enough other students who have had similar experiences to recognise it for what it is – her talisman to Talia.

Soon Bel is having her own adventures, in Classe, a city which is preparing for an invasion from the sea. And she can’t even swim!

Mosaics, a merchant trader, a pirate and a sea-battle, not to mention an unexpected trip to Elizabethan England and an earthquake, all give Bel a chance to impress her twin and find her own strengths.

Find out more about the thrilling Stravaganza novels: click here for the series website and here for author Mary Hoffman's own webpage !

Stravaganza: City of Ships Press Reviews

Praise for City of Masks:'A poignant, touching and exciting novel ... without doubt a masterwork of contemporary children's literature.' Edgardo Zaghini, Booktrust

City of Stars: 'A fabulous story of power, intrigue and flying horses. This is story-telling at its best'. The Bookseller

City of Flowers: 'I was barely allowed to finish it before my god-daughter snatched it away with breathless anticipation. "It's so real!" she drooled !' Independent

City of Secrets: 'An absolute triumph. Writing like this makes a parallel situation appear in the mind as more real than reality itself.' School Librarian

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780747592532
Publication date: 01/03/2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780747592532
Publication date: 1st March 2010
Author: Mary Hoffman
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 368 pages
Suitable for: 11+ readers
Genres: Fantasy / Magical
Recommendations: eBooks

About Mary Hoffman

Mary Hoffman has written over 100 books for children. Amazing Grace, commended for the Kate Greenaway medal, and its sequels has sold over 1.5 million copies. As well as the successful Stravaganza sequence of teenage novels, translated into over thirty languages, The Great Big Books series of information books for younger readers, illustrated by Ros Asquith has done very well. The first, The Great Big Book of Families, won the inaugural SLA Information Book Award in the under 7s category. Mary loves to write historical fiction and her books for Bloomsbury - The Falconer’s Knot, Troubadour and David - have ...

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