“Stravaganza: City of Masks” (2002) |Book Analysis (June-July 2019)

Book Analysis - THUMB - 7.3.19


“Stravaganza: City of Masks” (2002) by Mary Hoffman

Book #1 of 3; but with popularity became a six part story, hooray!! πŸ˜€ (I just learned this online)

**BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD (Summ.) w/ My Commentary**


Politics, fantasy, thwarted assassination attempts, foster parents, magic/science, travel to different time dimensions, friendship, budding romance, masquerade masks, Duchessa’s, good and evil, historical fiction, spies


Substance use (alcohol) and murder


4/5 Italians


Lucien Mulholland is a fifteen year old living in twenty-first century England when he is diagnosed with brain cancer. He lives with his parents, Vicky and David, and upon his Dad giving him a marbled purple and red journal that he sticks into his pocket one evening, he discovers and is thrust into a world of a different time. He begins his quests into what is known then as Bellezza, the sixteenth century version of present-day Italy, where he meets a young, rebellious teen, Arianna. Arianna is not as mystified with the ruler of Bellezza, the Duchessa named Silvia, as all her other citizens in the lagoon. Arianna has some radical, feminist perspectives (that women should also be able to be the mandoliers rather than only men) about the Duchessa and has a plan to attack her before this plan is thwarted. You see, Arianna has two older brothers and has entered the city of Bellezza during one of the most restricted times (a citizen not of Bellezza cannot be roaming the streets on this day or otherwise will face death) when she bumps into a black, curly haired Lucien (whom she names Luciano).

What Lucien additionally discovers in Bellezza is that he is healthy and with his hair, strong and passionate. Their friendship blossoms over the time where Lucien arrives in Bellezza every night in his world and every day in Bellezza’s time. He meets the Senator Rodolfo who is a scientist by today’s standards and a magic wielder by Bellezza’s. He helps bring Luciano into his wing to teach him about how he is one of the brethren of the Stravanganti: a person who, with a talisman from the other dimension, can travel between worlds. Because he is a guest in Bellezza, Luciano does not have a shadow (this is important later). He learns of another Englishman who traveled to Bellezza from Rodolfo and they are successful in finding out where he is.

During this entire time, Arianna is punished by her parents to spend time away from her hometown and in the city of Bellezza with her aunt to take care of her. This works out all right because Luciano and her often hang out and she teaches him about her world and the hotspots around it. Also, the Duchessa at this time is in a committed relationship with Rodolfo, and we are introduced to their enemies Rinaldo di Chimici (who wishes for Bellezza to join under his rule of Remora). It turns out that during celebratory events, that the Duchessa uses a body double. One such body double, Giuliana whose fiance is Enrico, is sworn to secrecy and given silver for her performance as payment. Except, of course, she does not keep quiet about the Duchessa’s body doubles and tells her fiance Enrico about it, who works as his profession as a spy. As such, Enrico decides to work with Rinaldo to uncover what is so special about Luciano and Arianna, following them around as they go from island to island and upon their many adventures.

At the same moment, the Duchessa is curious about Arianna and has her own spy follow the two teenagers around as well.

Later, there is an assassination attempt on the Duchessa’s life during one of the fireworks showings and Luciano has stayed the night there in Bellezza and happens to save the Duchessa from death. He is rewarded for his endeavors in silver and becomes closer to Arianna as they muddle through the uncertainties ahead of them. Meanwhile, Rodolfo and Luciano are able to find Doctor Dethridge who escaped from being burned alive in England for practicing magic and regained his shadow in Bellezza when his physical body died back in his own world. Dethridge helps to support Luciano and Rodolfo in their quest to understanding who is after the Duchessa and how to keep themselves safe and alive despite the risks.

With Rinaldo and Enrico working hard to thwart the Duchessa, Giuliana incidentally goes to the Duchessa’s mother to help make her wedding dress out of the impressive lace she makes. Being particularly talkative, Giuliana talks of Enrico’s mission to kill the Duchessa and her mother makes a secret, hidden message within her lace to send to her daughter and warn her of what was transpiring. Because of Giuliana’s fickleness and because of how greedy she is, the Duchessa asks her to come in to impersonate her again and turns her into the Glass Room where Enrico comes to kill the Duchessa (not realizing it’s his finace). While Giuliana gets taken care of, the real Duchessa seeks comfort and assistance from Rodolfo, Dethridge, Luciano and Arianna.

Annoyed that another assassination is thwarted, Rinaldo works with Enrico to come up with a new plan. They find out, from the Duchessa’s own spy and a bartender that both Luciano and Arianna had been in the city during the forbidden day. With this knowledge, Enrico makes a case against the two teens. Also during this time, Lucien’s parents in the present take him on vacation to Venice where he is able to cross the boundaries lightly (although getting physically ill because of it) into Bellezza and where he realizes with a dreadful feeling that something is going wrong in the city where he ventures to at night. Because he’s on vacation, he’s unable to Stravagate to Bellezza for a week in his time and a few days in their time. When he does arrive back home, he gets the bad news that his cancer has begun to grow back and he faces an unfortunate reality that he will not survive past it.

Back in Bellezzza, Arianna is sent a warrant for her arrest and placed into the dungeons. However, the Duchessa by this point has learned that Arianna is her very own daughter. Because of this, she was born on Bellezza then sent to one of the nearby islands to live with the Duchessa’s sister. She was brought up as though she were her mother’s sister’s daughter. She is shocked to find out this news and has many mixed emotions. She isn’t told right away who her father is.

When Luciano returns to Bellezza and informs Rodolfo and Dethridge of his very real, potential demise in his world, he is hugged and comforted by the two elder gentlemen. He finds out that Arianna is the Duchessa’s daughter and that the Duchessa has chosen to step down from her role of ruler of Bellezza after the second assassination attempt and has elected for Arianna to take her place instead. She plans to live her life as an ordinary citizen in a town called Padavia.

Then, Luciano is captured by Enrico as a new plan has surfaced for Rinaldo and his spy. They want to claim that Arianna cannot possibly be from Bellezza (to question her ability to rule Bellezza after she’s elected) and to show how Luciano isn’t from Bellezza either and is actually a witch (upon which the sentencing for Remora individuals would be death and which the citizens of Bellezza would be afraid of).

While he is captured within Rinaldo’s dungeons, his physical form in his world slips into a three week long coma. Arianna is brought into the courtroom to face the judgments of her new people, that question the legitimacy of her birth–which is where she finds out, among her citizens, that Rodolfo is her true father. The case is then dismissed.

But Luciano’s isn’t, not yet. Luciano is brought before the courtroom to see his lack of a shadow, however, in his world he has just been pronounced dead and because of this, he DOES have a shadow in Bellezza, so that Enrico’s and Rinaldo’s claims are immediately dismissed as irrational.

With time, Arianna steps up to be the ruler of her people, Luciano comes to terms with his death in the present world and how he is meant to live his life anew in Bellezza, he is able, with help from Rodolfo, to find some ways in which to say goodbye to his parents, and a romance begins between Arianna and Luciano, while Dethridge and Arianna’s aunt begin a romance as well. Rodolfo and Silvia also further their relationship and the story ends on a high note.

Everything up to this point was written June 8th 2019


1. “Lanterns swung gently between the trees, illuminating the flowers and leaves, bleached of their vivid daytime colours” – p. 14-15

MT: I thought this was a particularly beautiful description. ❀

2. ” ‘What a waste,’ thought Arianna” – p. 23

MT: I found this book initially very difficult to get through and I thought more than once about abandoning my efforts (although I’m glad now that I stuck with it!). In particular, I found it confusing that the author used single quotation marks for the thoughts rather than Italicizing the phrases and while also using half a quotation for whenever a person spoke. I don’t know if it was a stylistic choice to represent the time period this book covers or if the author is unfamiliar with this notion. By this I mean not using: ” ” and instead using: ‘ ‘ . I also just don’t think it makes sense to use the same symbols for dialogue as for thoughts, as it’s difficult to read at first. Also, towards the end of the book I found a few other grammar and misspelling moments. :/ They were a little distracting for me, and sometimes when I read certain sentences I had to double back and read it again as it didn’t make sense to me the first time. Sigh.

3. “The lessons were hard. There was a lot about matter and geology but that was as close to what Lucien might have described as science as they got. Mostly it was more like meditation. Rodolfo was very keen to develop Lucien’s power of concentration. ‘Empty your mind,’ (Rodolfo) would say, which Lucien found impossible. ‘Now focus on a point in the city. Visualize it. Describe it to me. Colours, smells, sounds, textures'” – p. 86

MT: I honestly do find this whole world building thing to be pretty amazing. For right now (6/11/19) I found it to be very reminiscent of the MCU’s “Doctor Strange” and also “Captain Marvel” for the whole Skrulls and Kree thing. I guess because it was dabbling with emotions and not expressing them as the Kree population was about. I have reviews on CM and eventually DS that I want to do soon, too. πŸ™‚

4. “[Lucien] knew that however fascinating he found the city, he was a tourist, in time and space” – p. 87

MT: For now, he was a tourist. But yes, he wasn’t fully participating and living his complete life in Bellezza, rather sharing it with his time in 21st century England. It’s too bad he couldn’t bring others with him to Bellezza, that would have been cool.

But for today, this is where I’m stopping. Since I took out a few of the flags and skipped some, I’m at least happy to say we’re 100 pages in now, hooray! Until the next paragraph, tomorrow! ❀

Soooo, there’s no real way to get back into this analysis/what started off as a review but will probably be renamed an analysis from this point on, but it’s been over a month since I worked on this post and I reaaaaaaaally need to get it completed and finished so that I can get this book BACK to the library without getting charged for having to replace it. SO! That said, let’s jump back in! (It’s currently July 9th)

**EDIT: I’ve also completely changed around and revamped this post, adding sections and rearranging them, hopefully it makes more sense and covers as much as I’d like without also being too long and complicated**

5. “What was he doing here, hundreds of miles away in space and hundreds of years in time, and who knew how distant from his own family?” – p. 117

MT: I think this is a great example of how even if he’d had a choice to continue living his life in B versus his own world, that it would come at a great cost, even still. He would miss his own family and although he has friends and family in B, it wouldn’t quite be the same. He obviously misses them and it’s sad how things turn out for his present day life. But there are things to rejoice in his B life.

6. “[The canal was filling with flowers at the funeral] some landed in the mandola, so that its severe black lines were now blurred into a mass of color. But most fell unheeded into the water, where they floated along in the wake of the cortege, alongside cheap golden ornaments representing the goddess” – p. 262

MT: This passage honestly reminded me of Frigga’s death in The Dark World and Tony’s in Avengers: Endgame ❀ ❀ ❀

7. “(R to crowd) ‘We have all lost someone we loved. Some might say that this loss of ours is not capable of restoration. And in some ways I would agree. But out of despair has come forth hope. In the darkness there is a gleam of a new dawn’ ” – p. 283

MT: I feel that this quote is especially necessary to highlight and showcase in this analysis because it’s heartwarming and truthful for most other situations as well. πŸ™‚

8. “[The doctors to L’s parents in his world] ‘I’m afraid, as we told you, there are signs that Lucien must have undergone some brain damage. I must repeat there is no sign of any brain activity at all. To all intents and purposes, he is dead already.’ … ‘So, you’re saying there’s no hope? No alternative to turning off the machines?’ … Both consultants remained silent. The two parents clasped hands beside their son’s body” – p. 308

MT: I thought this was a very sad scene and I actually teared up a little because of how sad it was and that the parents had to lose L in this way when he is so vibrantly alive in another world and time dimension. This is tied up somewhat nicely at the very last chapter, however.

9. “(L’s Mom to his Dad) ‘I never thought it would be like this, without any time to say goodbye.’ She thought she had cried all the tears she had in her but still more seemed to come when L’s father said, ‘At least we had that holiday with him in Venice'” – p. 311

MT: I really feel for this parents here and it’s such a blow to the gut that we really don’t ever know when the last time we see someone will be the last time. It sucks and it hurts, a lot. Sad. 😦 ❀

10. “(R to L’s parents in present day) ‘Your son still lives, you know, only in another place. And he will never forget you. He will think of you all the time as you think of him. He will grow up strong and happy and one day you will see him again'” – p. 325

MT: I thought this was extremely heartfelt and sweet. πŸ™‚ ❀

11. “L had made lists both mental and real of all the things he would never experience again. They were so small but seemed suddenly so important. He would never go to a football match, or see a film or eat a pizza or take a hot shower again. Never watch TV or eat popcorn or travel by Tube or swim in a swimming pool. Never sleep under a duvet or buy a lottery ticket or use a GameBoy or chew gum. Never fly in an aeroplane or ride on a rollercoaster or wear jeans. … But gradually, with the help of R and his new foster-parents, Luciano had begun to see that there were pluses to spending the rest of his life as a citizen of Bellezza” – p. 337

MT: Although this is mostly just the start of this analysis for you, it is the end for me and I think it’s important and a nice reminder of all the things we can have gratitude over and of course, the obvious (if you continue to read all the way to the end) relation to the novel I wish to write. It’s important to see both sides of life and death–the good and the bad. It’s not all of one or the other, rather a blended mixture. There are reasons to stay alive and life will get better, no matter what it is you’re struggling with.

Stay safe, my friends. ❀ And thank you for reading!!!! This was a LONG time coming and quite a bit of work, ahaha. See you on Thursday! πŸ™‚

Unanswerable questions from my reading/Re-working of the plot for my own understanding (as I read this in chunks spread out over multiple days):

  • If Luciano gets drunk in Bellezza, does he also get drunk in present day? (because he is gaining weight in present day from what he eats in B)
  • So when L leaves B his body goes with him? And when he’s out of B his body is resting in PD?
  • Β “…And what would happen to the other Lucien if he were killed here in B?” – p. 74
  • MT: Yeah, this is never officially explained. Most things with how Stravaganti’s worked weren’t. 😦 But I know that him dying in his own world gave him back his shadow in Bellezza, and what he did and ate in Bellezza effected him in his world. I think it was assumed that if he got hurt in Bellezza he would be injured in his own world as well. But my main question here was whether or not there were two Lucien’s or just one (and it seems like there was just one albeit a different one since he had hair and was cancer-free)? It’s a bit confusing, I’ll admit. When he would be alive in Bellezza in his world’s nighttime, he would be in a coma-like stance, not quite sleeping because it was deeper than that. I guess that makes a little more sense, even though it still doesn’t, completely? Sigh.
  • So if B effects him in PD wouldn’t he be able to sustain injury? And hangovers? Is not resting effecting him in PD (as I found out later, yes).
  • RECAP so far: Duchessa vs Chimci, assassination attempts, spy plans, Stravagantis, rules over Strav. night/day in worlds (If night in B it’s day in PD), people following A & L (from D’s ruling and C). Fireworks soon and maybe complicated assassination because of Enrico and Giuliana
  • On p. 147 it is explained that Dethridge now has a shadow in B world because he died in his PD world (which is significant later in the story for L)
  • From p. 168: Does L wear his normal real life clothing in B under his B clothing? How would his boxers be gone in RL if he didn’t have them on in B? Why are his boxers gone in RL? Why did company laugh when he took off his B clothing and he had the boxers on? Sooooo confused.
  • “Lucien wondered what would have happened to his body here in his own world if he had been stabbed in Bellezza” – p. 179

  • So this is EXACTLY what I’d been wondering for the duration of this entire S. business
  • On p. 185m why didn’t A and L notice the spies following them? There are spies everywhere, after all. What will the rest of the series cover (plot-wise)?
  • (So I can’t actually remember the plot line for this next notation but… on p. 198) Why didn’t R and Dethridge think of this option sooner? I believe the option is to go back into L’s PD world. Will A & L have to do this to escape being punished for witchcraft?

Things I found noteworthy:

1. The book begins with a Contents page where each chapter is titled individually

My Thoughts: Each chapter rounded up to about 15 pages in length and they all started with a small drawing at the top of which the chapter itself and the title corresponded to. I thought this was a really nice detail and I wonder if it was maintained throughout the entire series. πŸ™‚ Additionally I’m from the perspective that chapter titling is like extra level shit, so I found that especially impressive πŸ˜€

2. “[Lucien] was as out of place as a dog in the Council chamber. And yet he seemed totally oblivious of danger, warming himself in the sunshine and wearing an idiotic expression like a sleepwalker. Perhaps he was touched in the head?” – p. 36

MT: I thought this was a fairly mild phrasing of describing another person as “crazy” so, er, thanks for that, author! XD

3. Simply an observation at page 103

MT: For some reason, and I can’t remember why now, but this little paragraph about Enrico being a spy and having information to tell the Ambassador reminded me of Dr. Strange, The 100 and The Girl at Midnight series. *shrugs* Okay!

From May 7th 2019:

4. “There were turreted castles, fully rigged ships, winged rams, peacocks and whole gardens of glass trees and flowers, with delicate spider webs, accurate right down to the dewdrops (decorative glass in a museum)” – p. 107

MT: It’s interesting how things change and evolve in terms, yes of life in general, but also in terms of art. Fascinating what can be showcased in museums and the life and how that is different everywhere (yet also the same).

From May 26th:

5. “Lucien had a hunch that if Arianna’s grandfather had lived on Merlino, where all the houses were white, he would have painted his bright pink. He was that sort of a person” – p. 115

MT: I am that sort of person!!

6. How jumps in time are noted with an asterisk (*) and open journals signify jumping dimensions (from B to PD or PD to B)

7. “(R to L) ‘I didn’t bring you here. I merely left the talisman. I did not know who would find it. The talismans have a way of finding the right person’ ” – p. 129

MT: *small forming grin* You can guess what this reminds me of!!! (Dr. Strange)

8. Each chapter begins with the title and a corresponding image/sketch of what that chapter will be about (often a representation of that chapter’s title)

From June 4th:

9. On p. 146, D knows more about A than she is saying. I thought at this point that A would become her replacement

10. “(About Dethridge) and the man who had created the whole process more than four centuries ago and was now stranded for the rest of his life in another world” – p. 148

MT: The reason I’ve kept this notation is I really think L is over-reacting here. I think he’s catastrophizing and not realizing that with acceptance he’d be able to find peace and come to terms with the life he lost and the one he’s now gained. I think L is not accounting properly for the manner in which so many humans adapt to worst case scenarios and that we’re often terrible at judging how well (or not so well) we would cope with life-altering changes. Just saying!

11. By p. 155 we get a nice glimpse into the budding romance between L and A that I hope is explored in future stories!!

12. From page 163, gloating before realizing the outcome of your assassination attempt is no good. Poor form, Chimici!

13. On p. 171 I complain about how I wished the author would stop introducing new characters into the ongoing plots as it meant I had to remember more people when I was struggling with all the current ones XD

Noteworthy quote marked on June 5th:

14. “‘(D to the boy who was sent to kill her) ‘Then it’s high time (his age) you had a respectable trade. You can’t go round knifing people for a living’ ” – p. 178

MT: I honestly just laughed and enjoyed this part! XD

15. “(R to everyone) ‘But for now, you have nothing to be afraid of’ ” – p. 200

MT: Okay, so the Chimici would use Stravagation as a means to reveal secrets and ban magic and punish anyone who practices it to death. Sooooo, there is actually MUCH to be afraid of, Rodolfo!

16. “Arianna could not bear it–she screamed out loud. But there was no one to hear her” – p. 213

MT: Not gonna lie, this reminds me of how I’ve written Loki in my fanfic D&D

17. “Valeria and Gianfranco not her parents? That was like saying that Bellezza wasn’t a city. It just didn’t make sense. And the Duchessa her mother? Everything Ariannna had known about herself until today seemed to be untrue” – p. 224

MT: I cannot imagine the woes of being adopted or fostered but this scene again reminds me very much of Loki in Thor. 😦

Interesting development was that Dethridge and Leonora became a couple πŸ™‚

Chimici by page 252 isn’t all evil but Enrico is. He does come up with excuses why he can’t back out of his conniving assassination attempts on the Duchessa though.

18. “[That Arianna’s grandparents were her grandparents] That was a rock to cling to in a sea of swirling uncertainties” – p. 241

MT: Nice description!

19. “The two [R and D] seemed to stand in the dark tunnel for a long time, until their heartbeats returned to normal and they walked slowly back to R’s side of the passage” – p. 257

MT: See my cardiophile post to get this little reference!

Also, may I just note that G wasn’t nearly as “innocent” of a woman as L thought her to be! She had what was coming to her!

20. “Lucien thought again that [the Duchessa] was the most ruthless person he had ever met. He thanked his good fortune that he was on her side in the dangerous and violent world of Talian politics” – p. 259

AIwFF#1 **MT: As of June 6th, I thought this might make for an interesting Thor/Loki fanfic to explore Loki’s ruthlessness and just play around with the characters. πŸ™‚ (AIwFF = Art Idea, writing, fanfic)

21. “(R to L) ‘You are a Bellezzan now, by night and by day. Your life in the other world is over. It is a bitter ending and I shall never forgive myself for it.’ Lucien blinked hard to keep back the tears. This was it then; he was dead” – p. 317

**MT: This reminds me so much of my fiction novel I wish to one day write more consistently for and publish tentatively called “The Cards We’re Dealt” where the entirety of the novel actually begins in the afterlife. So, all the characters we’re introduced to have already passed on yet that is where the story begins rather than ends which is so typically done. πŸ™‚

22. “(L to everyone) ‘Even if I hadn’t been kidnapped, I was going to die in my world anyway. But I can’t bear it that I didn’t say goodbye to my parents’ ” – p. 318

**MT: Once again, this also reminds me of TCWD because it’s the matter of saying goodbye (or not) and accepting that and grieving with it for all that has been lost (and yet what is also yet to come!).

23. “Bellezzan from now on he might be, but he would find a way back to his own world. He had unfinished business there” – p. 329

**MT: Unfinished business theme to exactly you know what. πŸ˜‰

Thanks for stopping by!!! xxx

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