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Literature / Stravaganza

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Stravaganza is a series of novels by British writer Mary Hoffman about the adventures of young Earthlings in Talia, the Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of Renaissance Italy. These people, called 'Stravaganti', can go to Talia while asleep by using magical talismans. Political troubles have started to brew, and the Stravaganti are caught up in the middle of it.

The series was well-received by critics, though not popular. It was originally intended as a trilogy, but there are now six books in the series.

The series is as follows:

  • City of Masks, which focuses on Lucien, a cancer patient whose talisman is a marbled notebook, who visits Bellezza, the Talian version of Venice;
  • City of Stars, which focuses on Georgia, a girl tormented by her stepbrother whose talisman is a horse figurine, who visits Remora, the Talian version of Siena;
  • City of Flowers, which focuses on Sky, a teenager living with his single mother whose talisman is a perfume bottle, who visits Giglia, the Talian version of Florence;
  • City of Secrets, which focuses on Matt, a dyslexic young man whose talisman is a leather-bound book, who visits Padavia, the Talian version of Padua;
  • City of Ships, which focuses on Isabel, a girl overshadowed by her twin brother. Her talisman is a bag full of mosaic tiles, and she visits Classe, the Talian version of Ravenna; and
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  • City of Swords, which focuses on Laura, a girl who copes with her unhappiness by self-harming. Her talisman is a letter-opening knife resembling a sword and she vists Fortezza, the Talian version of Lucca.

This series provides examples of:

  • Anti-Villain: Maybe they don't all quite qualify as this, but the di Chimici become a lot more human as the series progresses, and not in a Villain Decay sort of way.
  • Arranged Marriage: Between the di Chimici, like nobody's business.
    • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: All of the di Chimici couples in the third book. Also counts as Kissing Cousins in their case.
    • Averted with Beatrice di Chimici, who turns into a Runaway Fiancée to avoid marrying her cousin Filippo when her brother, the Grand Duke, tries to force her into a marriage.
  • Action Girl: Arianna, Georgia, Isabel, and Laura. Lucia di Chimici has her moments as well.
  • The Atoner: Enrico, after his Heel–Face Turn.
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  • Avenging the Villain: Happens in the fourth book when the Chimici are trying to arrest Luciano for causing the death of the head of their family.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Sky Meadows is... odd to English-speaking ears. But when he stravagates to Talia, he's named Celestino Pascoli. His name basically Took a Level in Badass.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning:
    • In City of Masks, Arianna is named the new Duchessa of Bellezza.
    • In City of Ships, Filippo Nucci is elected the new Duke of Classe.
    • In City of Swords, Lucia di Chimici becomes the Princess of Fortezza after a long and bloody siege.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted: Gaetano, one of the first sympathetic di Chimici, is markedly less attractive than most of his relatives. Likewise, Falco would be a charmingly pretty little boy if he weren't horribly crippled.
  • Beta Couple: Georgia and Nick. Later on, Matt and Ayesha, as well as Sky and Isabel.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: City of Stars has two separate Big Bads who have nothing to do with each other; Niccolò di Chimici and Russell, Georgia's stepbrother.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Gaetano, to Falco.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The di Chimici.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ending to City of Masks is actually pretty tragic. Lucien's real body dies, leaving him stranded in Bellezza, unable to return home. Lucien does acknowledge that he was probably going to die in his own world anyway since his cancer had returned, but that doesn't change the fact that his parents lost their son and he didn't even get to say goodbye to them. However, the heroes do score a victory over the di Chimici.
  • Body Double: The Duchessa uses different doubles for all the flashy ceremonies, such as the Marriage with the Sea — she began this procedure when she became pregnant with her daughter, Arianna. One such double thinks she can outsmart the Duchessa, rat out her secret, and throw her lot in with the di Chimici with no ill consequences. She's wrong.
  • Casts No Shadow: When Stravaganti are in a world that is not their own, they don't have a shadow. Gaining one is evidence that the Stravagante's body in their own world has died and they've been translated to the other world.
  • City of Canals: Bellezza, which reflects Venice.
  • Cliffhanger: The sixth and so far final book ends with Rinaldo, now Pope, having been killed in Bellezza, with no one knowing how Grand Duke Fabrizio will react; and Ludo having been translated to England, with unknown consequences for the gateway.
  • Cool Pet: Arianna receives a pair of tamed African cats from Duke Niccolo in book 3. The cats later have kittens, and Arianna gives them to close friends and allies.
  • Corrupt Church: The evil di Chimici family practically run Talia's version of the Catholic Church — in the second book, we discover that the Pope is the main villain's brother.
    • Subverted somewhat with the Pope himself — on a personal level, he's not a bad guy and does try to keep the Church from doing anything it shouldn't. It's too bad he tends to bow to his older brother's wishes.
    • Played straight with Rinaldo, who seems a little too ambitious as a Cardinal looking to take over the Pope's job some day.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Oh god yes. The feud between the di Chimici and Nucci families has been going on for decades, and the cycle starts afresh in City of Flowers when one of the Nucci sons poisons Duke Niccolo, Carlo di Chimici enlists Enrico to help him murder Davide Nucci, the Nucci attack the di Chimici wedding...
  • Disappeared Dad: Sky's father, a rock star, has never been a member of his life.
  • Dramatis Personae: At the beginning of the third book, and boy is it useful.
  • Driven to Suicide: Falco di Chimici, who enlists the help of the Stravaganti to stravagate permanently to our world by dying in his own.
  • Duel to the Death: Between Luciano and Duke Niccoló in City of Flowers.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Lampshaded and invoked within the story. The Stravaganti postulate that talismans are drawn to teenagers who are unhappy so that they can grow from their experiences in Talia.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: The di Chimici. Most of them. And by later books, this is beginning to slip...
  • Faking the Dead: Silvia.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The series revolves around Talia, the "Culture of Renaissance Italy".
  • Fate Worse than Death: Narrowly averted in City of Secrets when the Chimici in residence attempt to exact their revenge on Luciano by drugging him and stashing him in the local university's cache of dead bodies to be publicly dissected during medical lectures.
  • Feuding Families: The di Chimici and the Nucci.
  • First-Name Basis: Arianna is on one with her birth mother.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: All the Stravaganti.
  • Fish out of Water: All the Stravaganti.
  • The Good Old British Comp: All of the Earth characters study at Barnsbury Comprehensive, which also happens to be built on the site of the first stravagation, and therefore more likely to produce Stravaganti.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: The entire plot of Book Six is based around a dispute over the throne of the city of Fortezza between two children of the previous ruler: Ludovico, the oldest but illegitimate child and only son who bases his claim on his seniority and his belief (shared by many) that only men can rule; and Lucia, who bases her claim on her belief (also shared by many) that Ludovico's illegitimacy disqualifies him from the throne. None of their respective supporters or opponents seem to care for apparently trivial matters such as who would make a better ruler or who the city's inhabitants actually prefer.
  • Happily Adopted:
    • Heartbreakingly subverted by Luciano and Falco/Nick. While they both love and are happy with their foster families, neither can stop longing for their real families, particularly Nick.
    • Also played straight with Arianna. Justified in that she didn't even know she was adopted until she turned sixteen.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Enrico, when he realises that he was tricked into killing his fiancée, aids in the death of Duke Niccolo, and later comes to be employed by Luciano.
  • The Hero Dies: In the first book. Technically. Lucien is translated to Talia permanently since he'd been gone so long from his own world that his original body was only being kept alive on life support, and as the doctors believed he was braindead his parents agreed to take him off the machines.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Arianna hides and spends the night in the start of City of Masks on the balcony of the Santa Maddalena Cathedral, while a massive festival is in progress — in plain sight of the massive Piazza crowded with partiers! Refuge in Audacity indeed.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In book 3, Niccolò di Chimici is killed with a poisoned rapier he was planning to use against Luciano.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Shades of this for Isabel and Sky and Laura and Ludo.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: "City of ___".
  • Ill Boy: Lucien and Falco until each gets translated.
  • Ironic Name: When Rinaldo is elected Pope in book 6, he takes the name "Candidus", which means "white", as in "unstained". The Stravaganti and their allies note how inappropriate it is given what he's done over the course of the books.
  • Iron Lady: The Duchessa of Bellezza must be this to stand up against the di Chimici.
  • Jerkass: Georgia's stepbrother, Russell.
  • Karmic Death: Rinaldo dies at the end of book 6 as a result of the father of Enrico's fiancée trying to kill him after learning he was responsible for his daughter's death, and Enrico himself being unable to avoid shooting both of them to try and stop the assassination.
  • Kissing Cousins: The di Chimici have no qualms about cousins marrying.
  • Living on Borrowed Time: Luciano. As the struggle heats up in later books, some characters even wonder if his luck might run out.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Arianna. Her mother could not take care of her, so she was left with her aunt and uncle and never told that she was even related to the Duchessa.
  • Narnia Time: Most of the time, it's a consistent one-to-one day ratio between Talia and England, with the only oddity being that day and night are switched. But from the first, we know that the timeflow is much more unstable — Doctor Dethridge, who lived in the Renaissance and was the first Stravagante, regularly gets visits from Stravaganti from modern-day England because time has flown by more quickly in England.
    • And this is played to its heartbreaking conclusion when]] Lucien's entrapment in Bellezza for about two days translates into a three-week coma in England — coinciding with a resurgence of his brain cancer. His parents, having concluded he's never waking up, decide to cut off his life support.
  • Older Than They Think: In-universe: the Stellata, unbeknownst to most Remorans, is coincident with a much older Manoush (Gypsy) festival.
  • Parental Substitute: The Gasparinis for Arianna, Doctor Dethridge and Leonora for Lucien, the Mulhollands for Falco.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The Duchessa's pretty much obligated to wear these. Also, the bridal gowns in the di Chimici triple wedding.
  • Promotion to Parent: Sky Meadows, having to take care of his ill mother.
  • Real Name as an Alias: Silvia Bellini has been the Duchessa for so long that almost nobody remembers her actual name. It makes it easy for her to pretend to be a widow in Padavia using her real name, even after she marries Rodolfo again.
  • Rebellious Princess: Arianna takes on the mantle of Duchessa voluntarily, but she still chafes under all the pressure and rules laid upon her in the later books.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Arianna's plan at the start of City of Masks involves staying in Bellezza proper on the one day when a non-Bellezzan straying on the island is punished by death. No one has broken this law for a hundred years, that she knows of, so she relies on the assumption that no one would possibly try. Unbeknownst to Arianna, as the Duchessa's secret daughter, she was born on Bellezza and thus isn't actually breaking the law.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Though not technically royalty, the Duchessa of Bellezza takes the welfare of the city very much to heart. Germano, the Duke of Classe in book 5, qualifies, as does Princess Lucia in book 6.
  • Sanity Slippage: In books 5 and 6, Grand Duke Fabrizio di Chimici seems headed for an eventual mental breakdown, especially as several members of his family turn against him for doing such things as ordering the murder of his uncle the Pope for not doing what he wanted.
  • Second Love: Nick for Georgia. Isabel for Sky.
  • Serious Business: The Stellata horse race in the second book has the entire city obsessed every year. It's based on the real-life Palio in Siena.
  • Shared Unusual Trait: Arianna and the Duchessa both have violet eyes , which is an early clue that they're related.
  • Shown Their Work: There's a whole arc in City of Masks where Lucien and his parents visit the real-world Venice that pretty much exists so Hoffman can show her work.
  • Shrinking Violet:
    • Georgia is a variation in that she has a lot of pent-up anger and upset beneath that shyness. Part of her development in Talia involves becoming as forceful outside as she is inside.
    • Isabel plays it straight; she avoids attention so she won't be compared to her talented twin brother, but feels even worse because nobody notices her.
    • Laura may also qualify — she tries to present herself as normal as possible to conceal the fact she's self-harming. Her parents have no clue, though they worry because she avoids her friends when she's at home.
  • Single Girl Seeks Most Popular Guy: Georgia's crush on Lucien.
  • Smug Snake: Enrico. This changes after his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Laura and Ludo, when they end up on opposite sides of a succession struggle.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Lucien meets Arianna when she is disguised as a boy to try and enlist as a mandolier (the Bellezzan version of a gondolier).
  • Time-Travel Romance:
  • Lucien and Arianna and Georgia and Falco are more unusual cases, because the romantic relationship began after Lucien and Falco moved into the other time period permanently.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The protagonist of each book gets one of these moments.
  • Translation Convention: In effect for the Stravaganti so that they hear people in the alternate world speaking in whatever the Stravagante's first language is.
  • Trapped in Another World: "Trapped" isn't quite the word, since the Stravaganti fall asleep with their talismans, but the principle is the same — and if you lose your talisman, or die in your home world, you are trapped.
    • Played completely straight with Lucien at the end of his book in a scene that is pure tearjerker.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Gaetano and Francesca. Fortunately, their love for one another is very sincere.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: When the Nucci attack the massive di Chimici wedding in City of Flowers, Prince Carlo, just married to Princess Lucia, is the only fatality among the brides and grooms.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Duchessa Silvia is this trope to the letter, even to the mask that she legally must wear as an unmarried woman. However, she does not have to worry about doubts of a woman ruler, as Bellezza would not accept anything but a female ruler.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Dethridge's English sounds like this to the Stravaganti from modern England.
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: In one of the later books, Nick, aka Falco manages to induce this in Grand Duke Fabrizio while visiting Giglia. Since he's disguised as a novice friar, he simply pulls his hood back up and disappears. Gaetano, who knows the truth and is with Fabrizio at the time, attempts to persuade Fabrizio that he's just seeing things.


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