City of swords, Stravaganza #6 by Mary Hoffman

Author: Mary Hoffman
Publication date: 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 349
My opinion
* 'We've all done things we wish we hadn't' said Enrico. 'And now we have to pay.'. *

Laura is a Stravagante, somebody who can travel in time and space. When she finds her talisman, a small silver sword, she stravagates with it to sixteenth-century Fortezza, where she meets Fabio, a swordsmith. Laura also meets the charming and attractive Ludo – and it's love at first sight. But their love for each other faces the ultimate test when civil war breaks out and they find themselves on opposite sides in a terrifying battle...

City of swords is the last book of the Stravaganza series so far. As the fans of the series will probably be used to by now, we follow an unhappy teenager on his trips to sixteenth century Talia, where he has a mission to accomplish. This time, we get to know Laura, who cuts herself in order to feel better. It is then quite a surprise to see her transported to Fortezza, where she meets her Stravagante, a swordsmith. But in Talia, Laura has a lot to think about, as civil was is about to destroy the city, and she must chose her side before it is too late... which is not an easy task when everybody expects her to fight against a charming man.
I must start by saying that, although I enjoyed this book overall, it is definitely not the best one in the series and I was a little disappointed. The beginning was quite strange, as we met the other English Stravaganti before Laura. It was a way of changing the style a little, as Isabel, Georgia, Nick and Sky had guessed that Laura would be the one receiving the talisman, but I felt it was taking the reader’s attention off her. As the story goes on, this feeling only became stronger; I never really felt I was discovering Fortezza with Laura. I rather listened to her telling her adventures to her new friends, which made it less interesting and lively as in the previous books.
An important part of the plot takes place in England. I enjoyed this in City of Ships, but here I felt it was sometimes a little too much. However, meeting Vicky Mulholland and several other characters we know from the rest of the series was a nice experience – and turned out quite surprising in the end. What I particularly enjoyed was Laura’s problem. We know from the first few pages that she resorts to self-harming, but there is much more to that than we would expect. Mary Hoffman really developed this aspect of her personality, much more than she did with any of the other characters, which was a good surprise.
Turning to the plot itself, I found it a little too predictable. There were a few twists and turns, but they did not seem that realistic and I was not as thrilled as I normally am. Meeting the usual Stravaganti was nice again, but they had not changed a lot, which I found rather disappointing. On the other hand, having Arianna and Luciano talk about their wedding was great and it was a good strategy to maintain the reader’s attention: Will they finally manage to get married?
I have given quite a lot of negative point about City of Swords, but I do not want you to think that I did not like it or that I would not recommend it to you. It is a great story; I just felt it did not quite live up to what I expected after five successful previous books – especially the fifth one. However, if I had to give a single reason to convince you to read it, I would say: the ending. As I said before, I was not living the story with the characters, but felt I was only a spectator. The action is sometimes quite slow, but in the last few pages, the pace clearly gets quicker. And suddenly, everything is over, before you even realise it. The ending remains nevertheless open, and each reader has to wonder... Will there be a seventh book?

City of ships, Stravavaganza #5 by Mary Hoffman

Author: Mary Hoffman
Publication date: 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 356
My opinion
* Perhaps only he knew haw much danger the city was in, threatened simultaneously by land and sea. There was nothing he could do now about the fleet; he had to trust in the two admirals and the bravery of their men. And in the strength oh their ships. *

Isabel Evans has just made a very surprising discovery: she is a Stravagante, somebody who, with the help of a talisman, can travel in time and space to the country of Talia in a parallel world. When faced with the extreme danger that Talia presents, the normally shy and quiet Isabel is forced to dig deep and find strength she never knew she had, as she is plunges into a world of pirates, ferocious sea battles and deadly adversaries...

Isabel is an English teenage girl who lacks confidence. No matter how well she does at school, sports or social life, she always feels she is behind her twin brother, Charlie. However, she is the one chosen to travel to sixteenth century Talia, a country similar to Italy, but in another world, where she has a mission to accomplish. She learns that she is a Stravagante and that her task is to help the brotherhood, but she does not know how.
The pattern of this fifth book is the same again, only with a different protagonist. This time, we are nevertheless transported to Classe, a city which was only just mentioned in the previous stories. The universe is completely different from that of Belleza, Giglia, Remora or Padavia: situated by the sea, its community is composed by artists and traders... But there are also pirates who threaten their peaceful life and another people, the Gate people, who might be preparing an attack.
I enjoyed the fact that, although the story followed the same guidelines as the previous ones, there are many new elements brought to it, which made the reading extremely interesting. The Chimici are present, but in the background and we get to know other interesting characters such as the Nucci – which we had briefly met before – and pirates. As I had read the four other books shortly before, I still remember precisely what happened, which was probably a great advantage in City of ships, because many people have similar names and it might get a little confusing for someone who does not know Stravaganza at all.
Mary Hoffman nevertheless sums up the main events at the beginning, and everything we might have forgotten comes back to us as we meet old characters: Rodolfo, Luciano, Arianna and Professor Dethirdge in Talia; Georgia, Nick and Sky in England. All of them have evolved and it is a pleasure to see them again.
One of the main interests, no doubt about it, is a discovery made by Professor Dethridge, which changes Stravagation. As this science progresses, the author takes more liberty and the plot becomes much more interesting. Although the real action only starts in the second part of the story, I never got bored with details at the beginning. The balance between England and Talia, new and old characters and places, descriptions and action, was really perfect. The climax towards the end was told with undeniable talent and we could easily picture the ships, the harbour, the army and the city.
I particularly liked Isabel’s character, which I found was better developed and more realistic than most of the protagonists we had met before – apart from Luciano, perhaps. Seeing her in Talia as well as in England gave us a more complete idea of her personality and I really feared and hoped with her.
City of Ships is once again a very successful story, maybe even more powerful than the previous ones. The author realised it was necessary to bring new elements in the series and does it with verve, offering us a wonderful landscape of a traders’ city threatened by pirates.

La cité des secrets, Stravaganza #4 de Mary Hoffman

Auteur : Mary Hoffman
Titre original : City of secrets
Traducteur : Julie Lafon
Date de publication : 2008 (traduction française : 2009)
Editions : Pocket Jeunesse
Pages : 356
Mon avis

* Ce qu'il vit sur la place suivant l'arrêta net. Dix énormes bûchers avaient été érigés. Trois piliers de bois émergeaient de chaque bûcher. Il ne fallait pas beaucoup d'imagination pour comprendre leur utilité. Une longue échelle était appuyée contre chaque tas de fagots. *

Matt déteste les livres : sous ses yeux, les mots s'embrouillent. Or, le jour de son anniversaire, il est étrangement attiré par un grimoire au fond d'un magasin d'antiquités. Le soir même, le voilà transporté au XVIe siècle dans la cité de Padavia. Il y fait la rencontre du célère professeur Constantin et apprend qu'il est un Stravagante, capable de voyager à travers l'espace et le temps.
Dès lors, Matt se trouve être le témoin de sombres complots et lui-même est menacé par un danger imminent. Il se pourrait bien que son manuscrit contienne les formules magiques les plus sectrètes au monde.

* Le pauvre, pensa Matt. Et, à cet instant précis, il n'aurait échangé sa place pour rien au monde. *
Nous voici de retour en Talie avec le quatrième tome de la saga Stravaganza, La cité des secrets. Il s’agit de l’histoire de Matt, un jeune adolescent dyslexique. Quelle n’est pas sa surprise lorsque, le jour de son anniversaire, il est attiré par un livre écrit dans une langue étrange qu’il ne peut déchiffrer. Grâce à ce talisman, il est alors transporté à Padavia où il rencontre le professeur Constantin et apprend qu’il fait partie de la confrérie des Stravaganti. Toutefois, la ville n’est pas sans danger et de sombres complots s’y trament.
Une fois de plus, Mary Hoffman nous livre un roman entraînant et passionnant, mélangeant aventures, fantaisie, danger et amour. Comment aurais-je pu ne pas être séduite par la Cité des mots et le monde des livres que nous sommes amenés à découvrir. Dans le scriptorium de Constantin, les secrets de l’imprimerie nous sont dévoilés petit à petit et nous prenons rapidement conscience des périls que cela peut impliquer.
Padavia est une ville apparemment semblable à la Padoue que nous connaissons mais, contrairement aux cités décrites dans les tomes précédents, je ne l’ai pas visitée, ce qui ne me permet pas de tirer de conclusions quant aux différences et similitudes existant. Les descriptions, bien que moins présentes qu’auparavant, sont toujours aussi imagées et nous plongent réellement dans la Talie du XIVe siècle. Un vrai bonheur !
En ce qui concerne l’action en elle-même, je l’ai trouvée une fois encore très bien construite, même s’il y avait moins de suspense que dans les tomes précédents. Tout commence doucement, ce qui nous permet de rencontrer de nouveaux personnages et d’en retrouver des anciens, puis le rythme s’accélère, mélangeant les lois contre la magie, l’anatomie, l’impression et édition de livres et l’astronomie. La fin est particulièrement forte et comporte quelques retournements de situation inattendus qui compensent les premières pages quelque peu prévisibles. Une combinaison gagnante qui permet que la tension culmine dans le dernier quart du livre. Il est alors impossible de le lâcher.
Le développement des personnages, qui m’avait un peu déçu dans La cité des fleurs, a compensé l’intrigue un peu trop simple à mon goût. Nous pouvons observer d’une part que le héro a une réelle personnalité et d’autre part que les personnages que nous connaissons déjà ont pour la plupart évolué – bien évidemment, Rodolfo, qui a déjà atteint un certain âge, change moins que Luciano, qui est en pleine adolescence. Autant du côté des Taliens que des Anglais, j’ai apprécié le fait d’avoir autant de détails sur les protagonistes. Les changements vécus par Enrico, l’espion, sont particulièrement intéressants.
Ce quatrième volume de la série confirme une fois de plus le talent de l’auteur et son idée de génie lorsqu’elle a inventé la Talie, les Stravaganti et les talismans. Nous découvrons une nouvelle ville, rencontrons d’autres personnages tout en retrouvant les anciens et sommes entraînés dans de complexes intrigues de cour. De plus, les livres sont omniprésents, ce qui séduira sans aucun doute tous les amoureux de la lecture et de ses mystères !

La cité des fleurs, Stravaganza #3 de Mary Hoffman

Auteur : Mary Hoffman
Titre original : City of flowers
Traducteur : Julie Lafon
Date de publication : 2005 (traduction française : 2007)
Editions : Pocket Jeunesse
Pages : 429
Mon avis

* Sulien désigna le sol et Sky s'aperçut avec un choc que, à part l'ombre du moine, il n'y avait rien. Son ombre lui avait disparu. *

Quand il découvre un mystérieux flacon devant la porte de chez lui, Sky est loin de s'imaginer ce qui l'attend. La nuit suivante, il est transporté à travers l'espace et le temps vers Giglia, qui rappelle la ville italienne de Florence. Le jeune garçon y apprend qu'il est un Stravagante et qu'il aura un rôle très important à jouer dans cet univers parallèle.
Mais Sky n'est pas au bout de ses surprises : plongé dans les intrigues d'un couvent où les moines manient la médecine aussi bien que les poisons, il va découvrir qu'il pourrait bien ne pas être le seul Stravagante de son collège...

Sky n’a pas une vie facile, entre un père qu’il n’a jamais connu et une mère célibataire et malade dont il doit s’occuper. Et pourtant, les choses se compliquent encore lorsqu’il trouve devant sa porte d’entrée un flacon de parfum qui le transporte à Giglia, une ville talienne du seizième siècle. Là, il rencontrera d’autres Stravaganti et les aidera à mener à bien une dangereuse mission.
La cité des fleurs, troisième tome de la saga Stravaganza, met à nouveau en scène un adolescent choisi pour voyager en Talie et aider la confrérie des Stravaganzi. Cette fois, il s’agit de Sky, un jeune métis, qui se retrouve dans le monastère de frère Sulien à Giglia. Cette ville, qui ressemble beaucoup à la Florence que nous connaissons, est très dangereuse car ce sont les Chimici qui la dirigent. Nous découvrons avec l’adolescent les dangers et rivalités qui règnent dans cet endroit pittoresque où l’on n’hésite pas recourir au poison pour venir à bout de son ennemi.
À Giglia, nous rencontrerons de nombreux personnages apparus dans les premiers livres, ce qui nous permet de constater la manière dont chacun d’entre eux a évolué, que ce soit en Talie ou en Angleterre. Ainsi, les Stravaganti ont un rôle extrêmement important en ces temps troublés ou un grand drame se prépare – sans que personne ne puisse prédire de quoi il s’agira. Les querelles d’honneur qui se trouvent au cœur de l’intrigue sont bien mises en scène, quoiqu’un peu simplistes parfois.
Je dois admettre que même si je reste une fan inconditionnée de cette saga et que j’ai apprécié ma lecture, ce livre ne pas autant transporté que les précédents. J’ai tout d’abord pensé que c’était parce que j’avais lu la version traduite plutôt que l’originale et que c’est pour cette raison que l’histoire avait moins d’impact. C’est le cas par exemple dans les dialogues du Professeur Dethridge, qui sont clairement démodés en anglais – et difficiles à comprendre de par leur orthographe – alors qu’on remarque à peine une différence de style avec les autres personnages en français. Toutefois, je pense que cela va au-delà ; en effet, l’intrigue me semblait bien trop prévisible, dans le sens où dès le début, on connaît le moment où les évènements tragiques vont se passer. Je ne dis pas qu’il n’y a aucun effet de surprise – bien au contraire – mais il y a clairement moins de retournements de situation que ce à quoi Mary Hoffman nous avait habitués. Quant aux descriptions, elle m’ont paru bien moins vivantes et réalistes qu’auparavant, et je n’ai pas réellement reconnu dans Giglia une ville bâtie sur le modèle de Florence. De même, en ce qui concerne le personnage de Sky, je l’ai trouvé en demi-teinte, bien que très attachant : contrairement à Lucien / Luciano et Georgia, qui s’impliquaient réellement dans leur mission, j’ai eu le sentiment que Sky ne trouvait jamais vraiment la raison pour laquelle il était venu en Talie.
Certains lecteurs seront sans doute un peu perdus au milieu de tous ces membres de la famille Chimici ou Nucci qu’ils rencontrent, ce que l’alternance de scènes courtes avec différents points de vue ne rend pas plus facile. Heureusement, l’arbre généalogique et les explications de l’auteur qui se trouvent à la fin sont très utiles.
Les autres personnages nous réservent toutefois bien des surprises, qu’il s’agisse de Nicholas, Luciano, Arianna, Enrico ou le grand-duc, et l’histoire ne manque clairement pas d’action. La cité des fleurs est donc un livre que je recommande encore une fois – surtout à un public jeune, mais tout le monde peut y trouver son compte – mais les adorateurs de la série Stravaganza pourraient être déçus – à moins que ce ne soit juste mon caractère qui ait fait que j’ai moins accroché.

City of Stars, Stravaganza #2 by Mary Hoffman

Author: Mary Hoffman
Publication date: 2004 (first edition, 2003)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 458
My opinion
* Dreaming of a city with flying horses was one thing... But coming face to face with someone she knew to be dead - that was something else again. *

Georgia loves horses and hates her step brother. It seems Russel's main aim is to make Georgia miserable. When Georgia finally saves up enough money to buy the little model of a winged horse she has admired in the window of an antique shop, she knows she has to keep it well out of Russell's way in case he realises it is important to her. But Georgia doesn't know that the little horse offers her an escape to another world and another time, that of sixteenth-century Remora, a city similar to Siena in Italy, which has evolved quite differently...

City of stars takes us to sixteenth-century Talia again, but this time we visit Remora, a city similar to Siena.
Georgia loves horses, but she is unhappy because her stepbrother persecutes her. The day she saves up enough money and manages to buy the model of a winged horse, she cannot imagine that it will transport her to another world which reminds her of Italy, but has evolved in quite a different way. There, in a city full of intrigues and dangers, she must find what her mission as a Stravagante is before it is too late.
Although the concept is the same as in the first book of the series (and the following ones) – an unhappy twenty-first century teenager who finds themselves sent to Talia by their talisman and has to accomplish a mission – the story is very different, and even more thrilling. A different setting, new characters amongst the ones we already know, more intrigues...
Horses are central in this book, not only because they are what Georgia loves most. In Remora, they are extremely important and every year a famous race takes place, the Stellata, which can be compared to the Palio our Siena. The way Remora is organised is extremely interesting because it mixes reality with belief, history and magic, and everything revolves around horses and the preparation of the Stellata. We are drawn into this strange universe and introduced to several Remorans such as Cesare and Paolo.
At the same time, other characters from the first book reappear –and their meeting could be full of surprises. However, the plot is understandable even for those who have not read it – I actually started the series by City of stars – because the main events and concepts are repeated as an introduction to Georgia in Talia. We also get to know better an extremely important family: the di Chimici. The first pages in which their names appear might be quite difficult to understand to start with, but there is no need to worry about forgetting who they are as the protagonists will later meet with each of them – and develop relationships from hatred to friendship.
Again, the descriptions are vivid and full of colours, sounds and emotions. It is interesting to meet new characters, but also to see how the ones we already know have developed since their adventures in Belleza finished. We follow the Stravaganti and their friends of course, but also their enemies – most of the di Chimici and their spy Enrico – as well as more neutral characters, for example the Manoush. I liked the fact that, contrary to many children or young adult novels, there are not only ‘good’ and ‘bad characters’, although they are sometimes a little simplified and predictable.
After the introduction, the story unfolds quickly, full of twists and turns – which are most of the time unexpected. In the middle of the court intrigues, love stories develop or evolve, as well as friendships. We get to know more historical details – be it because of the comparisons between Italy and Talia and their differences – and more about the Stravaganti, which are a really fascinating brotherhood. I particularly enjoy the character of Rodolfo, who seems very human and realistic.
City of Stars is the first book I had read of the Stravaganza series – quite a long time ago – and probably my favourite one. With scenes full of tension, the plot is well built and the ending quite surprising. The amount of historical references is incredible, as well as more hidden morals and theories, and every re-reading will bring some more details into light.