City of Ships by Mary Hoffman is the fifth instalment in her Stravaganza series. It’s a series of books about students aged 16 and up who can travel- via talismans- to a parallel universe not unlike fourteenth century Italy.
The books all seem to follow a general pattern of a surprise visit to Talia (the parallel universe), disorientation, finding ones place in Talia, life improves back home, calm, problem in real world affecting parallel one, fix problem, main problem in Talia (usually fantasy violence), solved indirectly by protagonist, everyone’s happy. That may seem lengthy, but to my memory they have all genuinely followed that pattern without much notable deviation.
That isn’t to say they are bad books though: they are interesting and not taxing to read. They don’t strike me as international best seller material, but that’s only my view and in my taste; I believe in actual fact that most people would enjoy them.
They are young adult books and it is pleasant to see that besides a few necessary clichés, they are mostly true to reality. It’s like a breath of fresh air. They don’t speak with slang every other sentence and they are typically normal (if a little middle class). I rather enjoyed this book in that I think it branched out a little. It used elements from previous novels that had been mostly untouched when they were moderately important and brought them to light. It also spoke about rape which I don’t recall in other books: or any such heinous crimes. Then again, it’s been a long time since I read them.
But these new things being brought in may also be the beginning of the end. I’ve read and watched enough of the fictional media to know that when something new is brought in, it can occasionally feel like a grasping of straws. In the interest of making the novel sell and be interesting, the author introduces a new dimension to the novel that hopes to ‘shake things up’ and keep consumers buying. I don’t think the new information is too much like that- it’s all necessary at the moment. But if the next book is not a finale, I think I am right about this.
There is little else to say about this book: it is well researched and the characters are fairly relatable. Some hicks such as when the narrator uses a colloquial phrase unlike the usual objectivity and sometimes the characters are written for a younger audience which tends to make me feel alienated: like Hoffman has forgotten who she’s writing for.
I wouldn’t urge anyone to go out and buy the book now, but it is worth loaning from the library for interested parties. Just loan the first in the series: City of Masks.