Stravaganza, Part Two: City of Stars
by Mary Hoffman
Georgia is not your typical romantic heroine. Tomboyish, with facial piercings and a passion for horses, she hides two agonizing secrets. The first is the death of her violin teachers son, the only boy she ever had a crush on. Her other, not-so-secret anguish lives across the hallway from her bedroom, and his name is Russell. The stepbrother from hell, Russell cannot get past his resentment of his fathers marriage to Georgias mother. Like a true bully, he takes it out on Georgia.
It is while escaping from Russells cruelty that Georgia first stravagates. That is, she falls asleep with a particular talisman in her hands in this case, a miniature horse with wings. And then she wakes up in another world altogether: a world similar to the city of Siena, Italy, in the 1600s. Unknowingly, Georgia has become a Stravagante which means she has something important to do in the remarkable city that calls itself Remora.
In this version of Italy, called Talia, the brothers Romulus and Remus founded separate cities but the one did not kill the other. And strangely, Remus city, Remora, is the principal one where the Pope dwells. Another amazing thing about Remora is that it is divided into Twelfths, each named after a Zodiac sign and each owing formal loyalty to one of the city-states of Talia. The Twelfths have alliances and rivalries based on astrological symbolism, and they all take place in an annual bareback horse race in which the competition is incredibly intense.
And now, as Georgia is swept up in the preparations for the Stellata race, fateful things are happening. A winged horse has been born the first in living memory, and bound to be good luck for the Twelfth of the Ram where it was born. Then the winged horse is kidnapped...and so is the young jockey who is supposed to race for the Ram. Also, the new, young Duchessa from Bellezza (think Venice) has been invited to Remora for the race, while the leading family of northern Talia the dynastic di Chimicis are trying to arrange a marriage with her. And of all people to show up among the visiting Stravaganti from Bellezza, Georgia meets Lucien: the one boy she really liked, until (in her world) he died. Turns out hes a Stravaganti too, and even more problematic for Georgia, he is in love with the young Duchessa who is being wooed by a scion of the di Chimicis.
If you thought that was enough plot material to be going on with, just wait. For a couple of the younger di Chimicis arent so bad. One of them, unfortunately for Lucien, is the prince who is vying for Ariannas hand. The other is a beautiful, but physically disabled, youth who wants to stravagate to Georgias world to be healed. But this would mean letting the young princes body die in the world of Talia a project that could endanger Lucien and Georgias lives, and the peace of all of Talia. Meanwhile, back at home, Georgia is trying to avoid raising suspicions about all the time she spends out cold in her coma-like, stravagating state.
So what starts out as a straightforward escape from the painful realities of her life in modern-day London, becomes a crushingly dense juggling routine with many potentially explosive balls hurtling through the air. And the double life begins to take its toll on Georgia, draining her energy. When she takes time to face her problems in one world, things escalate behind her back in the other. And when all her adventures come to a climax at the same time, lives will be changed for better and for worse.
Here is a miraculous feat of fantasy writing, placed in a unique and richly detailed setting that envelopes you, without question and without ceremony. It charges bravely through challenging territory such as the ethics of adoption, bullying, blended families, suicide, and even the suggestion of child sexual abuse, without forcing trite and simplistic answers. And it features a heroine who is courageous enough to act in a situation where questions of right and wrong could go on indefinitely. I doubt anyone would agree with every choice Georgia makes in this book, but she is definitely worth knowing. I would also be interested in knowing whether there will be a Part Three in the Stravaganza series...
Recommended Age: 13+
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