Author: Mary Hoffman
Publication date: 2010
* Perhaps only he knew haw much danger the city was in, threatened simultaneously by land and sea. There was nothing he could do now about the fleet; he had to trust in the two admirals and the bravery of their men. And in the strength oh their ships. *
Isabel Evans has just made a very surprising discovery: she is a Stravagante, somebody who, with the help of a talisman, can travel in time and space to the country of Talia in a parallel world. When faced with the extreme danger that Talia presents, the normally shy and quiet Isabel is forced to dig deep and find strength she never knew she had, as she is plunges into a world of pirates, ferocious sea battles and deadly adversaries...
Isabel is an English teenage girl who lacks confidence. No matter how well she does at school, sports or social life, she always feels she is behind her twin brother, Charlie. However, she is the one chosen to travel to sixteenth century Talia, a country similar to Italy, but in another world, where she has a mission to accomplish. She learns that she is a Stravagante and that her task is to help the brotherhood, but she does not know how.
The pattern of this fifth book is the same again, only with a different protagonist. This time, we are nevertheless transported to Classe, a city which was only just mentioned in the previous stories. The universe is completely different from that of Belleza, Giglia, Remora or Padavia: situated by the sea, its community is composed by artists and traders... But there are also pirates who threaten their peaceful life and another people, the Gate people, who might be preparing an attack.
I enjoyed the fact that, although the story followed the same guidelines as the previous ones, there are many new elements brought to it, which made the reading extremely interesting. The Chimici are present, but in the background and we get to know other interesting characters such as the Nucci – which we had briefly met before – and pirates. As I had read the four other books shortly before, I still remember precisely what happened, which was probably a great advantage in City of ships, because many people have similar names and it might get a little confusing for someone who does not know Stravaganza at all.
Mary Hoffman nevertheless sums up the main events at the beginning, and everything we might have forgotten comes back to us as we meet old characters: Rodolfo, Luciano, Arianna and Professor Dethirdge in Talia; Georgia, Nick and Sky in England. All of them have evolved and it is a pleasure to see them again.
One of the main interests, no doubt about it, is a discovery made by Professor Dethridge, which changes Stravagation. As this science progresses, the author takes more liberty and the plot becomes much more interesting. Although the real action only starts in the second part of the story, I never got bored with details at the beginning. The balance between England and Talia, new and old characters and places, descriptions and action, was really perfect. The climax towards the end was told with undeniable talent and we could easily picture the ships, the harbour, the army and the city.
I particularly liked Isabel’s character, which I found was better developed and more realistic than most of the protagonists we had met before – apart from Luciano, perhaps. Seeing her in Talia as well as in England gave us a more complete idea of her personality and I really feared and hoped with her.
City of Ships is once again a very successful story, maybe even more powerful than the previous ones. The author realised it was necessary to bring new elements in the series and does it with verve, offering us a wonderful landscape of a traders’ city threatened by pirates.