Lucien is very sick with cancer and struggles with his parents’ worry every day. But each night, through a magical gift from his father, his mind is transported to an enchanting city, Bellezza, a parallel city to Venice of our world. In Bellezza, Lucien discovers that he is a Stravagante, a rare person able to travel through worlds while sleeping.
Befriended by a local girl and protected by an older Stravagante, Lucien uncovers a plot to murder the city’s beloved ruler, the Duchessa. But to save the Duchessa and the city Lucien risks his only chance to return home to family and his real life.
Love. So much love. Stravaganza: City of Masks was such a surprise. I read the summary, and was like “yea, it sounds good”, but oh man…it was so much more than good. This book had me trapped in its story from the first word and I was so content by the end of the epilogue. Happy little sigh and clutching the book to my chest? Yupp, that was me.
Basically, our main character Lucien is bedridden from chemo treatments to try and cure his brain cancer. His father gives him a book, and suddenly when he sleeps, he finds himself in an alternate Italy (called Talia) in a different time period. When he sleeps in Talia, he’s back in his own modern England. In Talia, Lucien is swept up in court intrigue – politics, murder plots, long buried secrets and kidnappings. The stuff adventures are made out of.
While I’m still not quite 100% sure I understand exactly how the Stravagation (moving back and forth in place and time) in the book is supposed to work, I don’t even care. The exact science is not needed when it is a part of a story that encompasses so much detail, emotion and wonderful characterization. The Talia that our main character Lucien Stravagates too is so alive – I felt like I knew its canals, its islands, buildings and peoples. I could picture the fireworks, see the outfits and masks, the bright colours and the architecture – such amazing worldbuilding. I was emotionally invested in this place and the people. The Duchessa who loves her city and will do anything for it, Arianna who wants only to be a mandolier (rows the boats in the canals) but finds so much more waiting for her in the city of Bellezza, and Rodolfo who takes in, cares for and teaches our main character Lucien, unwittingly signing up for more adventure than he could ever want.
I loved Lucien. I wanted to just hug him and tell him everything is going to be ok. He is so strong. Not only is he dealing with cancer in his own world and time, he fully immerses himself in Talia and does everything he can to help out his friends there. By the epic climax, my heart was breaking for him. Lucien has his choice taken away from him, and it’s just…I was so sad for him, and yet so happy at the same time. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain without giving it all away.
Stravaganza: City of Masks is full to the brim of the stuff that good stories are made out of – mystery, intrigue, royals, a hero, dimension hopping, alternate worlds, characters you can fall in love with and ones you want to be best friends with, amazing detail in the world-building and writing that just pulls you in and wrenches every emotion it can out of you. Though it’s the first book in a series, it stands so well on its own and the ending was just – everything I could have hoped for. Highly recommended!