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Whenever I read one of these books, it feels vaguely familiar, as though I’ve read it before somewhere. And of course I have. Random kids finding paths to another world and having some sort of destiny to save it is not a unique plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something to be aware of. The series isn’t unique, but I would say that it’s done well.
As it progresses, the plots get more complicated and full of intrigue. The de Chimici family has been based on the historical de Medici family, so the books are full of intrigue. I read Book 4 recently, having read Book 1 a few months before, and the middle two a few years ago. Unconventional order, I know. Reading book 2 and then 3 first, I picked up the backstory fairly easily. However, coming to book 4, I got confused a lot because it was so long ago since I read the others. So many people are mentioned from the other books and it’s hard to keep track. For this reason, I’d say read the series in order. Start with book one, or even two, but start later than that and you will be seriously confused.
City of Masks
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.
I have a weakness for all things masks-involved. So the compulsory mask law interested me. Unfortunately, this isn’t really developed other than as a useful way for the women to not be recognised. Despite that, this is one of the better books. Read my full review here.
Georgia is miserable, bullied by her step-brother. That’s why the talisman chooses her. All stravagante are chosen because they are unhappy. And because they will soon be needed in Talia for some reason. Georgia loves to ride, so her talisman, a small winged horse, is just perfect. She befriends a young Talian, Cesare, who also rides. He’s actually the chosen candidate to ride in the Stellata, a hugely important hose race. With more competition, political intrigue and danger, City of Stars is a fun read.
Lucien and Arianna are back, the city is intriguing – split up into sectors, each sector containing stables where one horse will race against all the other sectors in the Stellata. This is possibly my favourite, or tying with City of Masks. Definitely the first two of the series are the best. The biggest problem is that the love interest goes the wrong way – she should have some sort of romance with Cesare! This isn’t even considered in the book.
City of Flowers
Sky is worn down from looking after his mother, but it’s just him and her, so there’s no one else to help. His dad is the famous singer Rainbow Warrior and Sky doesn’t want anything to do with him. His talisman – a blue perfume bottle, his city – Giglia (the Talian equivalent of Florence). The two warring families the de Chimis and the Nuccis are about to come to a head and Sky must help keep the peace.
Old characters are back, including the other Stravagantes, Arianna, and the de Chimici family. The parallel plots of what is happening in modern England and sixteenth century Talia make this a more believable story about time (and world) travel. However, the plots are so complicated that at times it’s hard to follow. The wonderful culture of eighteenth century Italy is just as good as in the previous books though.
City of Secrets
Matt is dyslexic, yet when he finds a book full of Latin, he buys it anyway. It transports him to the Scriptorium of Padavia (Padua). He becomes an apprentice as a book printer, which at first he finds strange, but soon realises that he can read perfectly in Talia. To his disappointment, he finds that matters haven’t changed in England. His dyslexia makes him incredibly insecure, he’s certain that his girlfriend will dump him soon. But in Talia, the de Chimici are close to working out how to stravagante, and Matt must help to conceal this knowledge from the power-hungry dynastic family.
Out of all the books, this one has least of its own plot in Talia. By this, I mean that most of the plot revolving Matt is set in England, and most of the Talian plot is more of a what-happens-next for all the Talian characters (Luciano, Arianna and Cesare to name a few). This made the book feel a little unnecessary. Parts of it were really amusing, the spies following spies following spies, and when the de Chimici decide that maybe you have to be knocked out to Stravagate... It’s a fun, interesting read, but you have to be in the mood to put up with a fair amount of confusion.