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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Welcome Alternative To Formulaic Fantasies

City of Masks - Mary Hoffman

Teenage Lucien is seriously ill. Chemotherapy has left him too weak to do anything but lie in bed and dream. But everything changes when an antique notebook he is given by his father transports him to sixteenth century Belezzza, an alternative Venice in another dimension.

Here his illness is left behind and he becomes involved with Arianna, an impulsive teenage girl with a burning ambition to become a mandolier, the Belezzan equivalent to a gondolier. It's a profession only open to young men but Arianna isn't prepared to let that stand in her way. She disguises herself as a boy and arrives at the island's school for mandoliers on the day when new recruits are chosen. To her disgust, however, it's Lucien who is chosen, not her.

Arianna is furious with Lucien and their short-lived friendship seems at an end. But fate thrusts them together once more when they are unwittingly ensnared in a plot by the powerful Di Chimici family to to wrest control of Belezza from its rightful ruler, the Duchessa Silvia.

Full of atmosphere and vibrant with colour, City of Masks is a welcome alternative to the many formulaic fantasies on offer for this age range and its powerful climax, which shows that Mary Hoffman is not afraid to kill off her characters when the story demands it, really took me by surprise