The full title of this delightful young adult fantasy novel is 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. Now, in all honesty, the Red Dog is only tangential to the story, but the rest of it is pretty important.
Flora Nemain Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca or, “Flora Segunda,” since she is the second daughter of the current Fyrdraaca family to bear that name, is the narrator of this tale and the bearer of a weight of woe. Her mother is a high-ranking military officer; her living older sister is on the military fast track as well. Flora’s father, a liberated POW, is mostly insane and housebound, and since her mother is out commanding things most often, Flora has to keep an eye on him. Flora also has to do all the chores around their 11,000-room house: there used to be a supernatural butler who took care of everything but Flora’s mother banished him. And worst of all, Flora is about to turn fourteen, which means she will become an adult in this fantastical world and join the army just like her mother and sister.
Flora doesn’t want to join the army. She wants to be a Ranger, acting “with cunning and with clarity of Will, and absolute focus – and magick.” Flora likes magick and has a predilection towards it; she also has a predilection to adventure, luckily for the reader. The extremely convoluted plot, in the broadest strokes possible, is this: Flora discovers her house’s banished magickal butler, Valefor, and tries to restore him to his former glory, not least so that he will take over mucking out the horse stables so she doesn’t have to do it anymore. She and her best pal, Udo (a budding fashionista with a fair amount of courage in his own right), while attempting to restore Valefor, also attempt to save a pirate by busting him out of military prison – with mixed success. Flora’s attempts to help Valefor result in his vampirishly siphoning off most of her Will and it is only through a showdown with the most powerful wizard in the land that Flora comes back into her own. And then, to top it all off, she’s got to tell her mom that she doesn’t want to join the family business. Trust me: it all comes together wonderfully with plenty of room for sequels.
My best pop culture comparison reference for this novel would be to imagine an early Harry Potter book written by Lemony Snicket. The author (and if “Ysabeau S. Wilce” is not a nom de plume, then I’ve never heard one) revels in words as she speaks to us through her clever-yet-innocent narrator. Flora’s world is rich with magick, warfare and crumbling family honor. There are real life issues present in this child’s world (pressure to meet a parent’s expectations, helplessness in the face of a parent’s decline) as well as fantastical ones (living in a house that has 11,000 rooms but only one functioning toilet … that is often not where you expect it to be). Flora struggles with her life - who she really is versus who her family expects her to be - and this makes her easily identifiable to the reader; that she does so with believable charm and humor makes her a friend to us.
It is my understanding that this is Wilce’s first full-length novel; I hope that it does well enough that she is able to continue to develop a series around these engaging characters as I think there are many stories yet to be told in this world. I was instantly charmed by Flora and I dare anyone else not to be.
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