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Flora Segunda
      Flora's Dare
Ysabeau S. Wilce
      Ysabeau S. Wilce
Harcourt, 428 pages
      Harcourt, 528 pages

Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), A House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog
Flora's Dare
Ysabeau S. Wilce
Ysabeau S. Wilce is a historian by training and a fabulist by inclination. Well-traveled, well-fed, and well-heeled (in shoes), she enjoys writing, dog-walking, coffee and Law and Order. After seven years under Arizona's blue skies, she has relocated to Brooklyn, Queen of Cities, where she is looking forward to following in the footsteps of Henry Ward Beecher and Walt Whitman (literally, not figuratively).

Ysabeau S. Wilce Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Flora Segunda

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Ysabeau S. Wilce's short stories, set in Califa, have been among the most delightful and original fantasies of the past few years. Now we have two novels in the same setting, though these stories of Flora Nemain Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca are set (mostly!) some decades after the tales of Hardhands that have appeared in F&SF. As Flora Segunda opens, Flora, called Segunda because her now deceased older sister was also named Flora, is within days of turning 14. She is a member of one of the four great Houses of the city of Califa, which seems roughly located where San Francisco is. But in her time Califa is in decline, having been forced into a humiliating peace with the Axtec-like Huitzils. One of the Houses -- Hardhand's House, Hağraağa, is now defunct, and the others seem hardly in better shape. For example the ruling spirit or denizen of Crackpot Hall, Flora's own home, has been abrogated -- which among other things means that much of the job of keeping the place clean falls to Flora herself. Her Mamma is the General of Califa's Army, who was forced to broker that peace, while Flora's father was imprisoned by the Huitzils and is now mostly isolated in his room, when not tearing up the house.

All this seems a bit gloomy, but our heroine is not a gloomy person at all. She is, to use a perhaps tired word, rather spunky, and a bit romantical, and definitely a teenager. As the book opens, she is preparing for her Catorcena, the 14th birthday celebration at which she will become an adult. This involves mainly writing a speech and making a dress. She is also wondering how to tell her Mamma that she wants to buck family tradition by not joining the Army. Instead she wants to be a Ranger, like Nini Mo, a real person but also the heroine of a series of ostensibly (but not likely) true adventure stories that Flora and her best friend Udo read obsessively. (There is a problem here -- the Huitzil overlords have outlawed the Rangers.)

Late for school one day, Flora makes the mistake of trying to use Crackpot Hall's balky elevator, which doesn't take her where she asks but instead deposits her in the library, where she meets Valefor, the abrogated denizen of her house. Valefor begs her to restore him, and indeed she is able to breathe some life into him, which has such good effects as allowing him to do some of her cleaning duties. But much more is required to restore him completely.

So Flora -- soon with Udo's help -- starts to try to track down the necessities for restoring Valefor. She has another quest as well -- to rescue the recently captured Dainty Pirate, who turns out to be Nino Mo's former associate, Boy Hansgen. And before long she realizes that her quest to restore Valefor has another dimension -- Valefor has become connected to her is such a way that if he is not restored, she will fade as well.

The action is swift to unfold and quite varied, involving travels all around the city of Califa, and a visit to the spooky nearly abandoned Bilskinir, home of the Hağraağa family, as well as a confrontation with the Warlord, and another confrontation with the traitorous magickal adept Lord Axacaya, who was rescued from sacrifice in Huitzil by Califans, only to later betray his adopted country to its enemy. The novel is linguistically fun -- though not quite so extravagant, I think, as her short stories -- and full of amusing adventures and magickal inventiveness. And surprises and twists. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Indeed I enjoyed it so much that I immediately wanted more Flora. And luckily for me, the second of her adventures is now out. It's called Flora's Dare, and it picks up not long after the first book. Flora is primed to enjoy a brief vacation from school. Only, her father has been more or less cured of his madmess. This is a mixed blessing -- he's much stricter in discipline, but he's also a wonderful cook.Flora's friend Udo wants her help in catching the notorious criminal Springheel Jack in order to get a bounty that has been offered. Which is to say nothing of the huge tentacle that rises out of a potty and tries to grab her.

Not surprisingly, Udo's scheme to grab Springheel Jack goes bad. Worse, Udo is besotted with another girl -- and Flora's reaction to this seems to surprise even her. Plus her sister Idden has deserted the Army, and tests Flora's loyalty by insisting she keep this secret from their mother. Flora wants to learn the magical language Gramatica, and her only option might be her Mamma's enemy Axacaya. Finally, when Axacaya meets her, he reveals that the tentacle that tried to grab her was the cause of the earthquakes disturbing the city: a pregnant giant magickal squid called the Loliga. And Flora is the key, perhaps, to freeing the Loliga to have her baby without imperiling the City. But that might require quite a sacrifice.

As with the first novel, Flora's Dare is fast moving and fun. Flora learns a lot more about herself and particularly her family, and these revelations are pretty cool. The action is nonstop, and the characters enchanting. In particular she gets to meet a couple of rather surprising people we might have thought out of reach. The action here is resolved nicely enough -- though to be honest the crisis in this book is in the greater scheme of things a bit minor -- and the stage is set for more exciting adventures. Alas, I'll have to wait, presumably, another year or so for the next book!

Copyright © 2008 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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