Author: Mary Hoffman
Publication Year: 2002
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
One moment Lucien is in this world and the next he is transported to the 16th-century city of Bellezza, a world that is filled with deception, treachery and glamour. At first it feels as if only his mind is visiting Bellezza, but Lucien soon discovers that he is in fact a Stravagante - someone who, with the help of a talisman, can transport himself in time and place. Lucien may be the one person able to save Bellezza from political intrigue surrounding the city's ruler. But there is always the chance that he will get stuck on the other side of time, never able to return to his own world.
My two cents: Finally, I got to read this book! It had been on my wishlist since I first saw it. It offers a really wonderful premise - a parallel dimension of our world. The country of Talia is both like and unlike the Italy of this world and exists in a parallel world similar to a 16th-century Italy. In this alternate universe, magic as we know in our world is science and science as we know is magic.
Lucien, our protagonist lives in 21st-century London and is ill with cancer. But, one day after falling asleep hugging a new notebook given by his father, he found himself in Bellezza, a city in Talia with his illness gone. It was in Bellezza he discovered the secret of stravagazing, an act which enables certain people to travel between the two worlds. These people are called Stravaganti and Lucien is one of them.
The description of the city as well as of the Bellezzan culture are very well-detailed by the author. There are masks, mandolas (or known as gondolas in our world) and politics of the court. The similarities and differences between Bellezza and Venice are very well compared. As someone who doesn't know much about Italy and its history, I found myself drawn to the culture and the beauty of it. It kinda motivates me to read more on Italy especially on Venice, very much like how Lucien was motivated to learn as much as he could about Venice after his first visit to Bellezza.
Most of the characters are likable. The depiction of Lucien's parents as parents struggling to keep their cancerous child alive felt very realistic. Lucien's mentor and master in Bellezza, Rodolfo does not lack of depth either. However, I found it difficult to relate to the Duchessa and to understand the motives behind her sometimes ruthless action. But she is, no doubt, very clever and a great schemer and doesn't hesitate even a bit to do anything to protect the city and the people she loves.
Though the book is a part of Stravaganza series, it certainly stands on its own and the author ends Lucien's story on a beautiful note. You don't really need to read subsequent books to find out what happened to Lucien and the people he has come to love.
My only complain is there seems to be no clear explanation as to what Stravaganti do and why they do what they do except that they can travel between the worlds and they have to guard the journeys from the people with oblique motives. Maybe there is some explanation offered in subsequent books and I'll try to read them to see if there is any.
All in all, a very enjoyable read. Something light for a change after all the WW2 novels I've been reading lately. I'm certainly looking forward to reading the second book, 'City of Stars'.
My verdict: 4/5