My rating: 3.5 stars (as an average for the whole series)
Take 6 young people from 21st century England and transport them to a version of Renaissance Italy which can only be reached through dreams. In this country (Talia), our protagonists must help to defend a magical order called the Stravagante and fight against the machinations of the di Chimici family who rule most of Talia. This is the overarching plot of the 6 books in the Stravaganza series – City of Masks, City of Stars, City of Flowers, City of Secrets, City of Ships and City of Swords. Each book follows a different main character and their relationships both in their own world and in Talia.
I started reading this series at the age of 13, when City of Masks was first published. I believed that it was only ever a trilogy and, therefore, stopped looking for the books. However, 6 or so years after reading City of Flowers I discovered that Hoffman had in fact written three more books! So I was on a quest to read these too. Each book has its individual merits and flaws, however I feel that Hoffman’s first, City of Masks, is by far the strongest. Plot elements from this pervade the other 5 books and the protagonist, Lucien, is perhaps the most easy to like. Perhaps I am biased since I read this title at an impressionable age (whereas I was over 20 when I read the last three) however I think that City of Masks is by far the best in the series, not just in terms of plot but also of writing style. Sections of the latter three books read as though Hoffman feels she has to re-hash plot aspects in order to make a word count. Perhaps she felt duty bound to write more books due to the popularity of the earlier ones, but I feel that she could have easily stopped after City of Flowers having written a well-developed series. That said, however, she does use the final books to expand the di Chimici story arc to a satisfying conclusion. So perhaps I should not be too harsh.
Verdict: Definitely one to read if you have a soft spot for children’s/young adult fiction. There’s a definite possibility for magical escapism here.