Stravaganza: City of Secrets – by Mary Hoffman
I was surprised and pleased to find this fourth book in Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza series and even more pleased to find that it was at least as engaging and well done as I remembered the previous books being. Probably more, since as it turns out, I don’t remember them very well. Or rather, I remember the first one fairly well and most of the important points of the second, but strangely, I have only the vaguest memory of the third—although I may be mixing parts of it up with the second. The good news, however, is that it didn’t make much of a difference. There was enough exposition to remind me and keep me up-to-date and I didn’t find it too grating or over-done. Granted, I might have thought differently if I had read the third book more recently, but I don’t think it got in the way of the plot too much.
In City of Secrets, a boy named Matt, who is dyslexic and lacks confidence in his intellectual abilities, finds an antique-looking book which, like the talismans of the other Stravaganti, takes him to an alternate-universe version of 17th century Italy. He finds himself in the Talian city of Padavia in the midst of the ongoing feud between the Stravaganti—travelers between the two worlds—and the DiChimici family. In an attempt to destroy the Stravaganti and discover their secrets, the DiChimici are passing laws outlawing magic as well as pagan religious worship. Matt becomes part of the effort to stop them from controlling Padavia, while he struggles to deal with own insecurities as well as the effect his stravagating is having on his relationship with his girlfriend in his own world.
The short sections within each chapter help to move the story along at a fairly rapid pace, particularly toward the end. It’s a story full of espionage and magic, daring escapes and scrapes with death, and it deftly combines and contrasts modern, everyday troubles with the fantastic and extraordinary.