Sunday, 14 August 2011

City of Masks by Mary Hoffman

I found this book on my shelves in France partly read but never finished. I bought it so many years ago that I no longer remember what drew me to the book. I decided to give it a second chance and restarted it.

Author: Mary Hoffman appears to be a relatively prolific author writing for younger readers with numerous titles under her belt. This is my first book by her.

Presentation: Fairly large font, well spaced. There are 360 pages broken down into a prologue, 21 chapters and an epilogue. All of the chapters are of roughly the same length.

Story: 15-year-old Lucien has just finished receiving chemotherapy for his brain cancer. He feels weak, he can barely eat  and sometimes he doesn't even have the energy to talk. But when his dad brings him a book to write in in order to communicate, something wonderful happens. Lucien finds himself transported to another time, another place. He is in 16th century Belleza (a Talian city similar to our Venice but in a parallel universe) on a day when none but those born in the city are permitted to be there. Something odd about him catches the eye of another in the city and Lucien soon finds himself faced with the idea that he is a stravagante, able to travel between the two parallel universes with the aid of a talisman.
Lucien is fascinated by this other city, visiting it every night, as he makes friends and learns more about the two realities and how they are linked. But Bellezza is also fraught with political tension: the Duchessa's life is in danger and Lucien finds himself embroiled in the plot.

Thoughts and impressions: The story starts off somewhat slowly and I can see why it lost my attention the first time around. For such an easy read it took me a long time to get through it. The twists and turns are pretty obvious and you can see them all being set up.
I don't like that Enrico doesn't get his just desserts. In fact, with the exception of one person, no one really suffers for the roles they play in the plots. Also, I don't understand why the di Chimicis are just referred to as the Chimicis. You'd never refer to Leonardo di Caprio as just Caprio. But maybe that's just an English ideal set on names from another language. I'd have to ask an Italian to be sure.
The author definitely did her research on Venice and Italian history, imposing her alterations in certain areas (like having a female power over the city rather than a male one, silver being more valuable than gold, etc.) making the concept more interesting.

Style: Very simple. Quite frequently I found that the style tells more than it shows, especially regarding emotions. The two main characters, Lucien and Arianna, are both 15 but I'm sure that the style is aimed at readers younger than that. It is too basic for me to consider it YA as I had originally thought it to be.

Final verdict: Very good idea. Unfortunately the execution left a little to be desired for me and I didn't enjoy it as much as I feel I could have. I would have preferred a little more depth to the narrative even in a book aimed at younger readers. stars

Extra notes: No swearing. No sex. Suitable for younger readers.


  1. From your review, I think I'll skip this one. The idea does sound interesting, but if it's slow, then I'll definitely lose interest quickly. Also, it looks like it's at a lower reading level than I prefer. Great review! It was very helpful!

  2. I read this one, and then book 2, City of Stars, and then book 3, City of Flowers, and then book 4, City of Secrets. The first three were all right. City of Stars and City of Flowers were better than City of Masks. But City of Secrets made almost no sense. And I hear she kept going, and wrote City of Ships, and has City of Swords coming out in August. After City of Secrets, I decided that I was finished. I'm glad I didn't waste my money. And, it doesn't feel like young adult, as you said. Especially the first two. But anyway, thanks for the review!!!

    Alyssa Susanna


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