A few days ago I reviewed the first book in this series and expressed my desire to read more. Fortunately, there are (at this point) four books in the series, and I am currently in possession of all of them. (I am also confused as to why they decided to redesign the series starting with book 4. I like it when all volumes in a series match, but apparently other people don’t care as much.) Ms. Hoffman, a Cambridge and University College London graduate, has been writing for children for nearly forty years now; this series has won awards and other kinds of recognition from various sources, including a 2009 nomination for a Carnegie medal for the fourth volume (City of Secrets).
Georgia O’Grady, a twenty-first-century fifteen-year-old English schoolgirl, is more likely to be mistaken for an English schoolboy, with her short, spiky hair, indifferent manner of dressing, and pre-adolescent figure. She’s also horse-mad, and when she finds a winged horse figurine in an antiques store, she saves up for and buys it. Of course, it turns out to be a Stravagating talisman, and she falls asleep and finds herself in Talia. She ends up in a stable in Remora, an analogue for Siena, and they mistake her for a boy, renaming her Giorgio Gredi. There, she finds herself swept up in the annual horse race, to be held shortly. Of course, though, because she is a Stravagante and this is Talia, there’s more going on than just a simple horse race . . .
Georgia doesn’t have the most pleasant life. Her stepbrother, Russell, makes her life very difficult, and although her stepfather isn’t actually a bad person, he and Georgia’s mother don’t really believe the extent of Russell’s abuse. At school, her life isn’t much better; she’s not one of the pretty, popular girls, and doesn’t have many friends. Her main afterhours pursuit — horseback riding — is generally a solitary affair (until she meets Alice, who is also horse-mad), and she’s not particularly interested in having a boyfriend just for the social cachet. However, in Talia (Remora), she has friends (Lucien, from the previous book, with whom she went to school, appears), she has horses, and she is, as a matter of fact, significantly happier.
While the horse-racing is the main point of the book, there’s a secondary plot with a young member of the Di Chimici family, Falco, who was injured in a riding accident some years back. Due to the limits of sixteenth-century medicine, he is now unable to walk unaided and has no chance of ever riding a horse again. Between him and his next-older brother, Gaetano, we are shown a softer, more human side of the Di Chimici family. Clearly, of course, they are still the nemesis in the book, but things become a lot more complicated when we see that they are not nearly so different from the Duchessa and her family as might have been believed.
This book also has hard choices and deaths; it isn’t exactly a sequel, as shown by my un-cut description, but it definitely seems to be tied firmly to the previous volume. I don’t think much of this book would make sense — especially the stravagating (traveling from 21st-century England to 16th-century Talia) — without what we learned in the previous volume. Somehow the travel seems less hokey the second time around, and the story is longer and richer, with a grander cast of characters and more questions about one’s role in life. I am still definitely looking forward to the next books in the series. 4/5 stars.