Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Flora's Fury by Ysabeau S. Wilce

It takes a certain degree of steely courage to set a story in a world your audience can't possibly understand immediately -- the courage of a writer playing a long game, willing to drop hints and lay clues, secure knowing that the right readers will pick them up, one by one, and realize the general outline of what must have happened. When an author can keep that up for an entire trilogy -- without once stooping to an "as you remember from your history lessons, Bob" speech to clue in the readers who haven't been paying attention well enough -- then you can be sure you're in excellent hands.

The Flora Fyrdraaca books are exactly that; they're set on a very alternate-historical West Coast of the US, with the city-state of Califa (located around where our San Francisco is) officially independent but under the political and military power of a nasty empire to the South, which has clearly both Aztec and Spanish features. And the language, and especially names, used in Califa imply that these settlers came from an English-speaking culture with much less French influence (and perhaps more German, or even Scandinavian) than in our own timeline. But Wilce isn't going to tell you how this world got the way it is -- except, perhaps, for the personal history of her main characters -- so you'll have to dream up your own plausible possibilities, and wonder at the shape of the rest of this world. (I reviewed the first two books in this trilogy, Flora Segunda -- which I'm amused to see that I didn't love at the time, though I jumped on the sequels -- and Flora's Dare.)

Flora's Fury is billed as the finale of a trilogy, and it certainly is that; it wraps up the important plot and thematic elements from the first two books, and this could be the ending. But Flora is still so incredibly young, so I will maintain hope that she'll be back, one day, as a true Ranger always will. As with the first two books, Flora tells her own story here, and hers is a great young-adult-novel voice: demanding, self-confident to the point of bullheadedness, energetic as a clockwork bunny, foolhardy in the way only a teenager can be, and utterly driven. Flora is looking for her true mother, the woman called Tiny Doom whom everyone knows was sacrificed by the Birdies (that nasty empire) and her soul eaten by one of their hideous gods. Flora is not everybody; she knows better. And not even the fact that the secret of her existence could unravel Califa's fragile peace and independence will stop her from finding her mother -- she's a girl who the adults have lied to for her entire life, and so therefore she must find the truth herself. (She's not quite that self-righteous -- and Wilce makes it clear what a dangerous game Flora is playing -- but Flora's Fury is a deeply enjoyable one-teenager-against-the-world story.)

Flora's Fury ranges farther into Wilce's alternate world than the previous novels have, deep into the deserts far to the south of Califa, through rough seas (and rougher companions) to islands off the coast, and into the hands of pirates and even worse people. It's an even bigger and more ambitious novel than Flora's Dare, which was itself bigger and more impressive than Flora Segunda; Wilce shows that writing in the same world doesn't have to mean stagnating. It's a book full of wonders, with protective family ghosts, throat-mangling magicks, deadly enemy sorcerers, and secret plots within secret plots. It is thoroughly enjoyable and entirely wonderful, and should under no circumstances be left only for teenagers to read.

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