In my continuing search for a good fantasy novel written by someone who’s still alive, I picked up City of Secrets, part of the “Stravaganza” series by Mary Hoffman.
Well, I’m still searching.
These books should be good. Should be. It was a nice creative stroke to create a fantasy world patterned after Renaissance Italy, and skew it a little because it’s in a parallel universe. Kids in our own world get access to “Talia” via magic.
Having come up with this really very promising original idea, Mary Hoffman comes up short in the execution of it. She writes down to her readers; it’s as if she thinks too much imagination is beyond their capabilities. So the action in the book is anchored in the real world of school, text messaging, homework, girlfriends, and more school. It is suffocating.
Yo, Mary–every teenager already knows what school is like. They don’t need to read about it. Show some mercy!
As seems to be usual in these books, the teenage characters’ parents are basically nonentities (if they appear at all), their siblings vaguely annoying but quite unimportant, and their age-group peers are everything. This is queer and unnatural; it is also the most enduring legacy of public education. No one really matters except your own narrow group of fellow children–and they matter more than anything. This is the single worst lesson taught by public schooling. They call this abnormal age-group segregation “socialization.”
One of the reasons people read fantasy is to escape. Lord knows we have an awful lot to escape from! Why Ms. Hoffman keeps dragging her characters back to school and peer pressure is a mystery to me. She won’t allow her readers any break from the unrelenting tedium of being a teenager in public school.
All that being said, it’s still better than A Clash of Kings.