City of Masks

City of Masks Book Cover City of Masks
Mary Hoffman

The protagonist, Lucien Mulholland, suffers from cancer and lives in modern London with his mother and father. When his father buys him an old journal from Italy, he never expects it to be magical. Lucien is whisked to a strange world when he falls asleep with the old journal in his hand. He finds himself in sixteenth century Bellezza, a city that strongly resembles Venice. There, he meets Arianna, a feisty young girl about his age who is disguised as a boy and hopes to become a mandolier. Lucien is chosen by accident but soon befriends Rodolfo, husband to the ruler of Bellezza, and discovers he does not have a shadow. Rodolfo then explains that he and Lucien are stravagante who time travel between worlds and try to stop the Di Chimici from taking over cities. The Duchessa, ruler of Bellezza, is threatened multiple times with murder if she does not obey the Di Chimici. As he is drawn into the new adventure, Lucien visits Bellezza more and more often, but there are always chances he will not return home. Apart from saving Bellezza, Lucien must face his own challenge of learning to give up who he loves the most.

Once I began reading, I was immediately drawn to the story. City of Masks is written in an alternate universe setting in modern times. The words used are fairly complicated for middle schoolers, although many are specific to the story. The book would be better if there are fewer twists and turns. However, I enjoyed comparing alternate names and places with the real one. I would recommend this book to older middle school students and possibly younger high school students, as it contains some content intended for mature readers. If I were to rate City of Masks, I would give it nine out of ten stars.


1. What city is the Bellezza equivalent to in the “real world?”
1a. The Talian city Bellezza is equivalent to the City of Venice in the world that Lucien lives in. (13,66)
2. Why do you think the story starts off as someone saying “The Duchessa looked young for 25 years?”
2a. It foreshadows to a later event which reveals that the Duchessa uses a double in important ceremonies. (21)
3. Why is the Marriage of the Sea an important event in Bellezza?
3a. The Marriage of the Sea is a superstitious ceremony that “ensures” another year of prosperity for the city.
4. How did Lucien receive his Talisman?
4a. It is an old diary crafted in Venice. Lucien’s father bought it at a local yard sale which happened to be where Dr. Dethridge’s laboratory was located. (61-71)
5. Who is Giulina?
5a. She is fiance to Enrico Poggi, spy for Rinaldo Di Chimici. Giulina was the double for the Marriage of the Sea. (23-24,96-97)

widdershins (pg. 13)
piquant (pg. 25)
obstinately (pg. 56)
ludicrous (pg. 72)
discomfiture (pg. 85)

6.  Explain why Doctor Dethridge had a shadow even though he was from Lucien’s world.
6a. His body from his world perished, so the shadow “went” to his Talian body.(147)
7. How is the Talian religion similar to Christianity?
7a. Apart from the different names, the “story” and the religions are very similar to each other. (172-174)
8. Why did the Duchessa release Guido Parola, even though he tried to murder her?
8a. Seeing him as a true citizen of Bellezza, she pitied his family’s condition and hired him to work for her instead. (177-178)
9. What was the secret Lucien’s parents were hiding?
9a. They were going to take him to Venice since he was extremely interested in learning about the city. (184)
10. What was Rinaldo di Chimici’s second plan to murder the Duchessa?
10a. He planned to arrest Luciano (Lucien) and Arianna as ransom. Enrico will also bomb the Glass Room, which is where the Duchessa will sit for affairs with other cities. (186-187,194-195)

annex (pg. 130)
mollified (pg. 138)
vicinity (pg. 143)
debauchery (pg. 177)
occult (pg. 192)

11.  How did the Duchessa’s mother convey Rinaldo’s ambitions to her?
11a. By using the language of lace, mother and daughter were able to communicate. (237)
12. What was ironic about Enrico’s plan to bomb the Duchessa?
12a. Instead of killing her, The Duchessa used his fiance as a double, killing Giulina instead. (253-254)
13. Why did the Duchessa want her status to remain dead?
13a. She did not want the citizen of Bellezza to find out she had been using a double, as they are extremely superstitious. Besides, she wanted to retire as a duchess and have a real life. (259, 266-267)
14. How did Arianna beat Francesa di Chimici in the election?
14a. She was actually a real Bellezzan citizen and the heir to the previous Duchessa. Despite the large amount of silver Rinaldo paid, she still won. (283)
15. Why did Lucien receive his shadow even though he was visiting Bellezza?
15a. He was in a coma in the other world. The doctors thought he was dead, so they put him down. Lucien’s earth body died so his shadow moved to his Talian body.  (290)

bodice (pg. 238)
litigious (pg. 252)
plangent (pg. 262)
lethargy (pg. 281)
umbrage (pg. 323)