Sunday, 15 July 2012

We've been away ...

with that Mary Hoffman, promoting her last book - for now - about us. She is muttering about returning to Remora in December. She should be safe there now with the new Prince our friend. It's where City of Stars is set, of course. Maybe she's hoping to see a flying horse born?

Arianna writes: That doesn't look much like the Georgia I know - much too pretty.

Luciano writes: But Georgia IS pretty!

Arianna: You are just asking for trouble!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Is it really going to happen?

SPOILER alert - Don't read this if you haven't read the first five books: Masks, Stars. Flowers, Secrets and Ships.

Arianna writes: You would think after we had both thought in the battles of Classe - at sea and on land - we might have entered some calmer waters in our own lives. But almost as soon as I got back to Bellezza, we had news of another serious situation in Fortezza. And of course Luciano felt he had to go haring off there to join in with whatever murder and mayhem he could find!

Luciano writes: And Arianna would have done the same but this time we managed to stop her. She was so angry with me and with Rodolfo though! I have never known her so cold and Duchessa-like. But the situation in Fortezza was not only dangerous but very delicate. This is the monent we found out what was going on. You'll be able to read all about it in two days' time - at least in my old country of the UK.

"‘I must get back to Padavia,’ said Luciano. He had already stayed in Bellezza longer than he had meant to and couldn’t really prolong the absence from his stud- ies any longer.
‘Not long now,’ said Arianna.

They were in her private parlour with no one else present but Rigello the African cat. He was snoozing beside the sofa, quite used to the Cavaliere’s presence. He didn’t even open an eye when Luciano embraced his mistress.

‘A month!’ said Luciano. ‘I can’t believe we shall be married in just over four weeks. We seem to have been waiting for ever.’
‘Well, nothing’s going to stop us now,’ said Arianna, smiling.
‘Hush,’ said Luciano. ‘We used to say in my old world “famous last words” whenever someone said anything like that.’
‘I don’t know what that means,’ said Arianna, ‘but I don’t like the sound of it.’

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door, and Rodolfo came in looking very serious."

Stravaganza: City of Swords is published by Bloomsbury in the UK on 5th July 2012 and in the US on 21st August 2012. So the six book Stravaganza sequence reaches its gripping climax.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Arianna's worse nightmare

SPOILER alert - Don't read this if you haven't read the first four books, Masks, Stars, Flowers and Secrets.

Luciano writes: We went on meeting in secret in Padavia after the events in City of Secrets, Arianna still dressed as a boy. But now we had another problem hanging over us - the coming sea battle as The Gate People tried to invade Classe.

Ariana writes: Luciano and I have never managed to have a normal relationship! Assassination, war, politics are the background against which we fell in love. It's hard for us to think we could get married like other people.

"One of the best things for Luciano about seeing Arianna in Padavia was that she didn’t have to wear a mask in public. She hadn’t been able to get away from state affairs in Bellezza much this term. When after his morning classes Luciano suddenly saw ‘Adamo’ in the tavern of the Black Horse it was the first time he and Arianna had been together since his trip to Classe. He had to restrict himself to a delighted smile and a masculine arm-clasp while his disguised fiancée grinned back and tried to look like the boy she was dressed as.

She was still guarded by Marco, who was now married to the maid Barbara and was an old friend of the younger couple. He understood that they would want to get back quickly to Luciano’s house and made himself scarce with Alfredo in the kitchen.

‘It’s so good to have you here again,’ said Luciano when the first rapture of their reunion had run its course. ‘I don’t think I can wait till May to come back to you.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ said Arianna reprovingly, propping herself on her elbow. ‘We have a war to fight before then.’
‘All the more reason to get married sooner and be together whatever happens,’ he said.
‘But the Duchessa of Bellezza can’t marry her Duke in a little parish church with a few friends back for bread and cheese afterwards,’ said Arianna.
‘Sounds good to me,’ said Luciano, brushing a loose curl back over her shoulder. ‘I didn’t think you cared about all that stuff anyway – clothes and jewels and pomp and ceremony.’
‘I don’t,’ she said. ‘At least the me that is Arianna doesn’t. But I’m also the ruler of my city-state and the people demand and deserve a good show. That takes time to prepare.’
‘Now you sound like Silvia,’ said Luciano.

Arianna laughed, ‘Well, blood will out, I suppose. And I don’t want Fabrizio di Chimici to think we got married in a hole and corner way – because we were afraid of his plot with the Gate people.’
‘So you’d rather do it in full view in the cathedral of the Maddalena, where any of his assassins could kill me?’ said Luciano. ‘Or both of us.’
‘Don’t joke about it,’ said Arianna seriously, putting her finger on his lips. ‘It is my worst nightmare.’"

Monday, 25 June 2012

A dangerous visit

SPOILER alert: don't read if you haven't read the first three Stravaganza books, Masks, Stars and Flowers.

Arianna writes: Luciano was sent away to university in Padavia and I missed him so much! So I enlisted the help of my maid Barbara to impersonate me, while I stole away to visit him. Although the last time she did that she nearly died!

Alfredo was Luciano's manservant and he was shocked by my visit.

"The expression on Alfredo’s face was a mixture of puzzled and appalled.
‘Your Grace,’ he said, making a deep bow. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know . . .’
‘No one does, Alfredo,’ said Arianna, shaking her hair. ‘I’m in disguise.’
‘You’re crazy,’ said Luciano.
‘I think that’s treason,’ said Arianna. ‘Even from a fiancé. Oh do stand up straight, Alfredo. I am not the Duchessa today.’

She stretched her arms and stuck her long legs in their coarse breeches out straight in front of her. ‘It feels good,’ she said. ‘I feel like the old Arianna of the Islands.’
It was true, in her boy’s clothes, she did look more like the wild girl Luciano had met in the Piazza della Maddalena more than two years ago.

‘But what about Rodolfo and Silvia?’ asked Luciano. ‘I can’t believe they let you come here on your birthday. And what about your bodyguard?’
Arianna shrugged.
‘They don’t know,’ she said carelessly. ‘And I didn’t bring a guard – only Marco, my maid’s betrothed. He’s hanging about outside somewhere. Perhaps you’d let him in and give him something to eat, Alfredo?’
‘Yes and bring us something too,’ said Luciano. ‘I was so surprised to see you I forgot my duties as a host.’

‘But not host to a duchessa, please,’ said Arianna. ‘Just a peasant boy from Torrone. You can call me Adamo when I’m in disguise.’
‘And when I kiss you?’ said Luciano, taking her in his arms.
‘Then you don’t need to call me anything at all,’ said Arianna, narrowing her violet eyes."

Friday, 22 June 2012

Luciano's turn to get jealous!

SPOILER alert: Don't read if you have not read City of Masks and City of Stars.

Arianna writes: I was in a very delicate situation with the  Duke in Giglia. Bellezza wanted to stay independent and in a sense the di Chimici were are enemy. But Gaetano and Francesca had become friends of mine, once I'd turned down his proposal of marriage to me, and I wanted to be at their wedding. Then Duke Niccolò sent me a ridiculously expensive dress to wear at the ceremony.

Luciano writes: I was in Giglia with Rodolfo, trying to ensure that Arianna would be safe at the weddings. Ironic really, when you think what did happen. But Rodolfo and I had to go to dinner with Duke Niccolò because he wanted to thank our friends Sulien and Sky (both Stravaganti) for saving his life when someone tried to poison him. This is what happened at the dinner:

"‘Tell me,’ said the Duke casually, ‘do you think the young Duchessa would be equally averse to all members of my family?’ Everyone round the table was surprised. Sky thought the Duke might be going to suggest yet another nephew or cousin of his, but all the others knew that the choice of di Chimici suitors would be very limited. The forthcoming weddings would tie up most eligible di Chimici males.
‘I have been thinking,’ continued the Duke, ‘of re- marrying myself. ‘And I think perhaps I erred in sending the Duchessa so young and inexperienced a suitor to court her, fond though I am of Gaetano. It perhaps proves the truth of the saying “Never send a boy to do a man’s job.” What do you think your daughter would say to the suggestion of becoming my Grand Duchess?’
There was silence around the table, but Sky had seen Rodolfo’s eyes move straight to Luciano and the boy was fixed in his place only by the intensity of the message that gaze was sending. Both Rodolfo and Luciano had turned quite pale but it was Brother Sulien who spoke first.

‘Does this mean you are taking the title of Grand Duke, your Grace?’ he said. ‘May we offer our congratulations?’
It was clear that most of his children hadn’t known what the Duke was intending; only Carlo looked less than amazed.
‘I shall make a public announcement of my intention the night before the weddings, at the feast,’ said the Duke. ‘That is, as far as my new title is concerned. I think the time is right to become Grand Duke of Tuschia.’
‘Then we must congratulate your Grace,’ said Rodolfo diplomatically, raising his goblet as if in a toast. ‘As for my daughter, I’m sure she will hear your suit with the honour due to it when she arrives in Giglia.’
For Luciano, the rest of the evening was sheer torment. He couldn’t wait to get out of the palace. In fact, the four Stravaganti left the palace together, after much tedious ceremony, and Gaetano had time only to whisper that he would meet the others at the friary the next day.
Sky knew that Luciano was still being restrained by the silent force of his master’s will until they were well away from the Via Larga. But as soon as that control was relaxed, Luciano exploded.
‘So that was what the dress was all about! And the grand dinner! We’re supposed to be impressed. But I’ll never let Arianna marry that monster. I’ll kill him myself first!’

Luciano adds:

I certainly felt angry enough to do it then but when the Duke and I did go head to head, it wasn't quite as I had expected.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Arianna gets jealous

SPOILER alert: Don't read if you haven't read City of Masks!

Luciano writes:

Well, once I was living permanently in Talia, it wasn't only my life that had changed. Arianna was no longer a girl from the islands dressing up as a boy. She was Duchessa of a great city and had to behave with decorum. Another Stravagante came on the scene and I was involved with all kinds of tricky dealing in Remora, the City of Stars. I hadn't seen Arianna for ages and was really looking forward to seeing her. But in the end our meeting didn't go so well:

"‘How was your journey?’ asked Luciano. ‘Very interesting,’ said Arianna. ‘I saw Volana and
Bellona and Giglia. And now Remora. What a fascinating place!’

‘We don’t need to make small talk now, Arianna,’
said Luciano. ‘The others can’t hear us. I missed you. I hate it that we can’t be together without all these people around.’
‘Duchesse don’t spend much time alone, as you are well aware,’ said Arianna.
‘And do Duchesse have so much company that they don’t miss their friends when they are away from them?’ Luciano persisted, smiling.
She smiled back. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Not so much as that. But you haven’t been exactly a hermit. You seem very friendly with the new Stravagante. Has it been pleasant for you to be with someone from your old world?’
‘Not altogether,’ said Luciano. ‘She has brought some painful associations with her.’
Arianna froze beside him. ‘She?’ she said disbelievingly.
‘Yes. Didn’t Rodolfo tell you? Georgia goes to my old school and I used to know her.’
‘So that is how girls look in your world!’ said Arianna with a mixture of curiosity and scorn.
‘Not all, no,’ said Luciano, nettled. ‘Georgia’s a bit different from most girls. And because she wears her hair so short, we decided to pass her off as a boy.’
‘And a good job you made of it,’ said Arianna bitterly. ‘You must have learned that from me.’
It brought back vivid memories of their first meeting in Bellezza, when Arianna was dressed as a boy and furiously angry with Luciano – as she seemed to be again now.
‘Come,’ she said. ‘I must not neglect my hosts.’

 And she spent the rest of her time being charming to Gaetano and Fabrizio di Chimici."

Arianna writes:
I wasn't jealous! Well, maybe a little bit at first. Because I hadn't known the new Stravagante was a girl and she looked so very - different from Talian girls. It was easy to pass Georgia off as a boy. But when I realised her feelings for Luciano, yes, then I did get jealous.

Still, we are good friends now and she is coming to our wedding. If we ever manage to have a wedding.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Our first meeting

Luciano writes:
I'll never forget the first time I met Arianna! I thought she was a boy at first. But then she hurt me, next she told me off and finally she took her clothes off! She was a part of the whole wonderful dream world I thought I was in, with its blue skies, floating spires and palaces and - best of all - the feeling that I was well and that my illness had not travelled with me. But it was only when she grabbed my arm really hard that I realised it wasn't a dream after all!

Arianna writes:
He ruined the plans I had been making for a year! I was hiding behind the bronze rams on the Loggia of the cathedral, where I had spent the night and then in the morning I saw him down in the square.

This is what Mary Hoffman wrote about my reaction in Stravaganza: City of Masks:

"There was a stranger there, a boy about her own age, risking death. He was obviously not Bellezzan, not even Talian by his clothing. Arianna had never seen anything so outlandish as what he was wearing.

He was as out of place as a dog in the Council chamber. And yet he seemed totally oblivious of danger, warming himself in the sunshine and wearing an idiotic expression like a sleepwalker. Perhaps he was touched in the head?"

Luciano: I was touched in the head! By cancer. I had a brain tumour. At least I did in my own world, but not in Bellezza. It was a strange other-world version of Venice and whenever I went there, as a Stravagante, I found the cancer hadn't come with me. I even still had the black curls I lost during my chemo.

This is what the book says I thought of her:

"The boy watched in astonishment as her brown hair tumbled out of the fisherman’s hat and she stood in her feminine if rather old-fashioned underwear, pulling a skirt out of her bag.

‘Quick, stop gaping like a fish and put on my boy’s clothes, over those weird ones of yours. You’ve only got minutes before someone spots you and hauls you up before the Bellezzan Council.’

The boy, moving as if in a dream, obediently pulled the rough woollen trousers and jerkin on, still warm from the body of the extraordinary girl, while she dressed herself in more clothes from the bag, talking all the time. She seemed absolutely furious with him."

We'll be posting more extracts from the books soon. Remember City of Swords comes out in the UK on 5th July and in the US on 21st August