Lucien is seriously ill with cancer, able only to lie in bed all day, but he has discovered a secret. By using a mysterious notebook he can be transported to a different world whenever he sleeps. He soon realises that this is no dream, that the other world really exists. He is quickly caught up in the political intrigue and danger surrounding the city. With help from various new friends including the rebellious Arianna he must help to protect the city he has come to love.
A wonderful premise – a parallel world similar to a sixteenth century Venice where magic exists. Add to that masks, court intrigue, hidden identities and time travel all rolled into one novel. Mary Hoffman certainly knows how to weave a tale full of exciting different elements. The city of Bellezza was particularly well detailed, with a rich culture and beautiful descriptions. Many of the characters were very well written, especially Arianna, Sylvia and Lucien’s parents. The depiction of a family struggling with cancer felt very truthful. Interestingly, I felt that Lucien himself lacked depth, especially regarding his personal struggle with his illness. Some characters also seemed a little 2D compared to others, and many of their actions are never fully explained. The Duchessa refuses to reveal an important piece of information for a long time with no apparent reason other than to increase the tension towards the end of the book.
Having read the second and third books in this series but missed this one, I hoped that it would provide more originality than the other two. And it does, sort of. This book has a lot going for it, but somehow the whole book felt familiar. Despite the original setting and some good characters, I felt like it had been done before. Mary Hoffman has combined clever plot elements with a wonderful setting, resulting in a fun, entertaining book. This is a good book to pass the time, but not if you are searching for something truly original.