Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Stravaganza and my City of Masks

Arthur Amon spotted a copy of a YA book called Stravaganza: City of Masks in a sale and got it for me (thanks, Arthur) because of my novel City of Masks. I've just finished reading it. It's by Mary Hoffman and is the first in a series.

In the odd way that these things happen, it has a few coincidental overlaps with mine, which was started well before it was published in 2001 (and I guarantee, Mary, if you're reading this, I only just read it this week, and I finished my novel months ago).

The obvious parallel - that both Cities of Masks are inspired by Venice - is hardly surprising, since Venetian masks are well known. MH's city is directly and quite closely based on Venice, though, while mine has no canals - it's just an Italianate, early-Renaissance-esque city-state on a harbour. It owes at least as much to Shakespeare's Verona as it does to Venice, if not more.

Both books also have a city law requiring the wearing of masks, but in mine, it applies to everyone, not just unmarried woman, and is much more central to the plot.

One of the odd coincidences is that both of us have characters called Juliana (in my case) or Giuliana (in hers), though the characters are very different from each other, and mine is a much more central character. The other main coincidence, involving family relationships, one of the two old scholars and the woman who rules the city, I won't describe in detail since it's a spoiler for both books.

My central character, Gregorius Bass, is a foreigner, like MH's Lucien, but he is an adult (though a very innocent one), and isn't from our world. Nobody, in fact, is from our world; Bonvidaeo, my City of Masks, is without direct connection to our world, it exists in its own cosmos so alternate that even the geography is different. And it's non-magical, unlike Bellezza.

Oh, there's another coincidence; MH's city is called Bellezza, meaning "beauty", and mine is Bonvidaeo, meaning, approximately, "good appearance". The intent of the names is quite different, though; Bonvidaeo is "good appearance" in a sense indicating fakery.

As I hinted above, both books have two old scholars and a woman who rules the city, though MH's Duchessa is the legitimate and acknowledged ruler and my Countess is the covert and unofficial ruler. Both could be described as ruthless, but the Duchessa's ruthlessness is very mild compared to the Countess's. The two pairs of old scholars are also quite different from one another in their position within the city, the origin of their relationship and their studies.

In fact, the two books' differences are considerably greater than their commonalities, which is good, because I'd hate to end up in a plagiarism suit - not because I couldn't prove that I didn't plagiarize, but because I wouldn't want the hassle of having to do so.

It makes you wonder, though, about other plagiarism suits like that one over Harry Potter. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

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