Ysabeau S. Wilce: Flora Segunda

The full name of this 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; it is her first novel. I kept running across mentions of it, I’m a sucker for that sort of title, it sounded like something I might enjoy, and the library had it. I have mixed feelings towards this book, but will give the next one a chance; I liked the setting and style and liked Flora, at least (though I think she was the only character I liked; I was somewhat sympathetic towards her father even though he was crazy; Udo and Valefor were annoying) and was interested enough in the plot to read the whole thing.

This is apparently the first of a series, despite there being no mention of it anywhere on or in the book. I hate that and was annoyed when I realized it. The plot as described on the jacket is more-or-less resolved, the pacing wasn’t bad (it’s not like it was a single book split into two), but there are any number of loose threads left hanging at the end. Some of these are questions about the past that were affecting the present, but a couple were unresolved issues in the present. The ending does indicate a likely direction for one of the issues, but also raises further questions about the past and future. It wouldn’t have made any difference in my decision to read it, but it would have affected my expectations of the book itself; I read it assuming it was a stand-alone and expected more of a resolution and had too many questions left at the end to be satisfied.

Thirteen-year-old Flora Fyrdraaca lives in Crackpot Hall, one of the four great Houses in the city of Califa (the House with Eleven Thousand Rooms); all of the great Houses have magical butlers (the butler is a magical construct called a denizen and keeps the house in shape). Her mother banished theirs, so they only live in a small portion of the house (access to other parts is impossible without the butler’s power). One day, in a hurry, she takes the elevator instead of the stairs (forbidden due to its unpredictable behavior) and ends up in the library, where she meets their denizen, Valefor, who is a shadow of his former self. He convinces Flora to give him a little of her Will and to help find a way to restore him completely; in return, he helps her with some of her chores. She does not take much convincing; she is responsible for herself, her schoolwork, her father, the housework, their five dogs (one red), and their two horses. Flora and her best friend Udo (the Glass-Gazing Sidekick) have a variety of adventures while trying to find a way to restore Valefor (and eventually Flora herself).

Flora’s mother is the Commanding General of the Army, and is mostly absent, her father is mad (PTSD, either hides in his room or has episodes of screaming and throwing things outside of it) and her older sister Idden is elsewhere in the army. There was war with the neighboring Huitzil Empire (the Huitzil are technically overlords, but let Califa mostly go its own way), and he was captured and was a prisoner for three years (with torture). There was also a first Flora (segunda = second); for some reason, she was with her father in a war zone and was also captured and was never seen again. The second Flora is quickly approaching her fourteenth birthday, at which point there will be a party (her Catorcena) with presentation to the Warlord, and she will officially be an adult. As a Fyrdraaca, she is expected to enter the army, but she does not want to. There was a famous Ranger (scout/spy) during the war named Nini Mo; Flora reads the novelizations of her adventures and wants to be like her; unfortunately, the Rangers were disbanded after the war. Any time she has to make a decision or a plan, she thinks of it in terms of “What would Nini Mo do?”

I liked Flora and enjoyed the book while it was set in the house; once she left the house and the real action started, I found it hard to read. I can’t really put my finger on what I didn’t like, but I think part of it was that I didn’t really like Flora and Udo’s interaction. Together, they were the really obnoxious and annoying know-it-all type of teenagers and I don’t think I liked Udo much, anyway; he was occasionally a bit patronizing towards Flora. Valefor was also annoyingly whiny and manipulative, but didn’t bother me as much, both because he was a minor character and because Flora caught on to what he was doing quickly. I was glad that Flora and Udo’s plans didn’t always work as expected and occasionally had disastrous results; it seemed realistic that two thirteen-year-olds would not have the experience necessary to have their plans work every time, though it did make for somewhat painful reading. Hopefully once Flora and Udo are more mature, they will be less annoying.

The names bothered me; they were all over the place culturally. I guess I should assume from the names that Califa is a bit of a melting pot with a Spanish-speaking culture at its base, but I found the random names and combinations of names distracting. I ran across a review somewhere where the reviewer thought Califa = California, which would explain the melting pot names with Spanish undertones; the names still seem like they were pulled out of a hat with no real rhyme or reason. The neighboring Huitzil are obviously Aztec-ish; Huitzilopochtli was the Aztec war and sun god; there are bird-people from the empire called Quetzals, and the names mentioned evoke the Aztec culture.

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