Subtitle: 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
Author: Ysabeau S. Wilce
I might have to stop reading Young Adult (YA) novels. That would be a shame, because some of the best science fiction and fantasy novels written have been written in the YA (previously called "Juvenile") category, and they make fine reading for young and old alike. A case in point is the fantasy Flora Segunda, clearly marked at the bar code on the back cover as "Ages 12 and up". I recommend it without reservation. It is a fine fine book. But I worried too much about Flora, and I'm not sure I can go through that again.
I'm 49 years old, my son is 12 years old, and the deeper Flora gets into trouble, the worrieder I get. I don't want to be Flora, I don't want my son to become Flora, I want to leap into the story and stop her before she can make mistakes and protect her from dangers of all sorts. I want to be the attentive parent she doesn't have. The book is -that- good.
I've read a few stories by Ysabeau Wilce in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and they were thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly engrossing, solid works. Their setting was the same as that of Flora Segunda - the city-state of Califa, which seems to be an alternate version of our world's California, with Spanish roots and no United States and horse-drawn technology, and a certain number of people who are able to use magick in certain ways.
Wilce's voice in the short stories was challenging and a number of times I found myself re-reading paragraphs and sections, trying to figure out just what was going on and who was doing it and why. It was a puzzle that added to the richness of the stories. The prose of Flora Segunda is much clearer and straightforward, pellucid even. I can live with it.
The protagonist is Flora, of the family Fyrdraaca, and she lives in a gigantic decaying house that was once quite grand. Her family was once grand enough to fill the house, but is now reduced to just four living persons. Flora's mother, called Buck, is the commanding General of the Army of Califa, and is frequently called away, sometimes for weeks at a time. Flora's older sister Idden is a Captain in the Army, and no longer lives at home. Flora's father, Hotspur, was badly damaged as a prisoner of war and is mentally ill, confused, disruptive, and sometimes violent.
There used to be a "butler" -- a magical spirit who maintained the house, cleaned, prepared and served food, and did all the scut work. The butler is gone, and Flora gets to do all the scut work instead. She needs to muck out the stable, feed and groom the horse, feed the dogs, clean the kitchen and the bathroom, do the laundry, and take care of anything that needs taking care of, including handling her father when he has a bad episode.
She's about to turn 14, and that means she's expected to sew herself a fancy dress for her birthday party, make the invitations, prepare food for the guests, and ... oh yes ... get ready to move into the Army barracks as a new recruit, because that's what Fyrdraaca kids do when they turn 14, even though it isn't something that Flora would like to do.
There's Flora's deceased older sister, the first Flora (that's what makes this Flora the second (segunda) Flora, who died in the war that damaged their father. There's Flora's best buddy Udo. There's Valefor, the deposed butler, who begs kisses off Flora. Frankly, I didn't trust Valefor one little bit. I could go on and on with the setup, but it is much more fun to discover it for yourself.
Soon Flora gets herself involved in some very adult, very risky business, way over her head, and I nearly couldn't stand it. It's the father in me. I persevered, Flora survived, and there is a sequel.