Stravaganza: City of Swords

Written by Mary Hoffman
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

This time-slip historical fantasy, the sixth in the Stravaganza series, moves between 21st-century London and 16th-century Italy, a country of warring city states, riven by family feuds.

A group of school-friends have learnt to ‘stravagate’, that is, time travel but with a mission. Laura, an unhappy 17-year-old who resorts to self-harming, finds herself in 16th-century Fortezza at a critical time. Duke Jacopo de Chimici has died, leaving his daughter, Lucia, to rule. Worryingly, not all Fortezza citizens are willing to accept a female ruler. When Ludo Vivoide arrives, announcing that he’s Jacopo’s bastard son and claiming the throne, civil war seems inevitable.

Laura’s mission is to help Lucia assert her rightful claim but then she meets the charismatic Ludo and falls in love. She cannot let the Stravaganti down but how can she fulfil her quest when it means defeating the man she loves?

I enjoyed this. It’s an exciting tale of battles and skulduggery but also of Laura’s personal journey as she learns to open up about her troubles and move forward. The enmity amongst the di Chimicis also rings true for the period. The setting may be historical fantasy, but Mary Hoffman has plainly done her homework on the turbulent Italian 16th century (apart from some anachronistic tomatoes). After some thought, I decided that it doesn’t worry me too much that this is historical fantasy; it’s a great read and it certainly illuminates the internecine politics of the age.

Caveats? You really need to have read the previous five books. There is a large cast of characters and all the Italian men’s names end with ‘o’. I was longing for a Luigi or a Giuseppe to help stop me muddling up Fabio and Fabrizio or Luciano and Ludovico.

Still, Mary Hoffman Stravaganza fans will surely love it.