Friday, January 25, 2008

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce

First of all, that name stops me short every time I see it. I suppose "Wilce" is unextraordinary, but on top of "Ysabeau S.," it looks like some particularly flamboyant version of the Witness Protection Program. I'm sure it's her real name --who would make up something like that? -- but I have a moment of "huh?" every time I see it.

And, second, I read Flora Segunda almost two weeks ago, and haven't managed to think up much to say about it. It's a pleasant YA fantasy novel, but the plot is fairly linear, the main character is yet another Spunky Girl (an interesting one, yes, but still, she's very much a type), and we don't learn enough about the world for that to entirely make sense.

(If I'm remembering and piecing together widely separated things correctly, Flora Segunda and the related short stories seem to be set in a world where the Vikings settled North America, at least to some extent. Columbus probably didn't show up, or didn't lead to any major conquest. I think this is set on the west coast, with the nasty Huitzil Empire to the South and the semi-independent city of Califa in which our story takes place. But I could be very wrong about any or all of that.)

Anyway, our heroine and first-person narrator is Flora Nemain Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca, scion of a once-large and powerful family, dweller in a very Gormenghastly house, and all-around Girl of Spirit (which is how the subtitle puts it). She's not as omni-competent as I expected, which is a nice change -- in fact, there are a lot of things that she thinks she's good at but does not demonstrate exceptional aptitude in.

Her family and house have fallen on rough times, as it customary for this kind of story: she's the youngest of four surviving Fyrdraacas, along with her older sister Idden (off on military duty), her mildly-deranged ex-POW father Reverdy, and her head-of-the-local-armed-forces mother Juliet. (And she's Flora Segunda because she had an older sister by that name who was with the father when he became a POW, and who did not emerge from captivity.) Things are even worse because mama Juliet banished the house's supernatural butler Valefor years before, halting the usual upkeep on the sprawling manse and leaving everything to slowly fall to pieces. (Don't even ask about the all-over-the-place names; they don't make much sense to me but that doesn't necessarily mean no sense could be made of them.)

As the only sane one regularly living at home, Flora is burdened with keeping up the house -- such parts of it as the family still use -- and with managing her occasionally drunk and manic father. She's sick of this, so, when she comes across the insubstantial remnant of the butler, she quickly falls in with his plan to revive himself and take back some of his abilities to keep up the house.

All he needs is some of Flora's energy. And that kind of thing never goes wrong, does it?

Fixing everything eventually requires the help of Flora's "sidekick," a boy from her school named Udo. (He's absent for the first third of the book, because he's grounded, which was an odd narrative choice. As it ends up, he's introduced awfully late in the story for someone who's supposed to be the best friend.) It also involves kidnapping, forgery, the supposedly-dead butler of a failed noble house, at least one pirate, Flora's upcoming coming-of-age birthday party, and Flora's mother's archenemy Lord Axacaya, a dangerous sorcerer who has often been in league with the hated Huitzils.

Flora Segunda has a lot of fun elements, and Flora's voice is spunky without going overboard about it. If I wasn't as impressed as I hoped I'd be, that can be attributed to high expectations, I guess. I liked Flora Segunda, but I couldn't quite love it.

1 comment:

mjlayman said...

Ysabeau is the french version of Isabelle.

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