Monday, June 1, 2009

Stravaganza: City of Masks

Title: Stravaganza: City of Mask
Author: Mary Hoffman

What it's about: Lucien, a boy sick with cancer, finds that he can "stravagate", or travel to another world, when he falls asleep holding a special notebook his father bought for him. Lucien's travels take him to Bellezza, an alternate version of the city of Venice during the 16th century. In Bellezza, Lucien finds himself completely well, learns more about stravagation, and has adventures with Arianna, a girl from a nearby island. He also becomes entangled in the city's politics and finds that danger comes hand in hand with excitement in this new world.

What I thought: So I tried reading this book several years ago, but it didn't hook me. Now, maybe because of the time I spent in Italy, I find it much more engaging. Actually, I'm surprised it didn't hook me the last time I read it, because this is pretty much just the sort of story I'm always looking for. Interesting, realistic characters have adventures in a glamorous other world of magic and intrigue. What's not to like? And the book is quite detailed. You can tell that Hoffman put a lot of work into creating Bellezza and stravagation. Well, there's plenty of twists and turns and excitement, and it's all well plotted out. Some stuff I could predict, but other bits I could not, which all balances out well. Reminds me that I'd been contemplating writing a little essay on my thoughts on foreshadowing. But anyway. Great book.

Overall: Captivating tale of adventure and intrigue.

The Dragonfly Pool

Title: The Dragonfly Pool
Author: Eva Ibbotson

What it's about: Just prior to World War II, Tally Hamilton is sent away from her home in London to attend a boarding school. However, Delderton is unlike any other school. The students are quirky, the classes don't cover traditional sources of study, and the teachers are as odd and talented as they are caring. Despite her initial misgivings, Tally soon fits in at Delderton, and she even convinces the school to form a folk-dancing team in order to travel to a cultural festival in the small nation of Bergania. There she meets Karil, the crown prince. But even as Tally and Karil become friends, the threat of the Nazis casts a shadow over the lives of everyone.

What I thought: This is like The Star of Kazan, only even better. There's the same charming prose, with loving descriptions of the natural world. Actually, the beginning of the book, with its setup of Tally's life in London had be fearing this book would simply retread the path of The Star of Kazan. However, I was happily wrong. The action is concentrated on Tally and her friends at Delderton, and I am happy to say that the supporting cast is well drawn, with likable, memorable characters. There's also plenty of excitement and action, with higher stakes than in the other book. I also thought that the friendships between the characters were well-done, with plenty of depth. And I quite liked Tally. You know how when there's a character who's just generally nice, caring, optimistic, etc., there's the potential for her to be an annoying Mary Sue type? I had this worry for Tally, but Ibbotson is so good that the reader is charmed along with the other characters.

Overall: A wonderful piece of historical fiction. Charming and heartwarming.