May 5, 2009

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce

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 – don’t you just love the full title? – is the story of (almost) fourteen-year-old Flora Segunda of Crackpot Hall.

Flora belongs to one of the Big Families of the city of Califa, and as such, her house should have a denizen, a magical butler. But for reasons unknown to Flora, her mother banished the denizen, which makes Flora’s life harder in very practical ways: more chores for her to do. One day, Flora wanders into a previously unexplored area of Crackpot Hall, and there she meets Valefor, the banished denizen. When Valefor asks her to restore him, Flora's adventures begin.

Kailana and I agreed to read this book together and co-review it. What we did this time was come up with a set of questions that we’d both answer. Here they are (I alternated my questions with Kailana’s - please visit her blog for her answers):

What did you think of the book's playful language?
Flora Segunda uses words and expressions such as “supertired”, “choco-sandwie”, “maquillage”, “poppy” and “mama”, “Ayah so”, etc. There are two different sides to this: there's the way Flora herself speaks, and there are Califa’s unique greetings, sayings, expressions, etc. I’ve read a few reviews that said that the Flora’s language in particular is bordering on too cutesy and is therefore annoying. I can see why not everyone would like it, but personally I loved it. It was a big part of what made the book so charming for me. The language fits the tone of the book perfectly – more than that, it helps set it. It’s playful (which doesn't mean the book doesn't have a serious side), it’s very expressive, and it helps immensely with the worldbuilding and characterization.

Here’s a passage that will give you an idea of what I mean by playful tone:
I started to make the courtesy that signifies Abasement before a Superior So Superior That No Abasement is Abased Enough, but since it requires going down on both hands and knees and the floor was so very dirty, I pretended to stumble on my way down.
The tone actually reminded me a bit of the tone of some of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, and if you know me you’ll know how much that means coming from me. (And by the way, my edition of the book has enthusiastic blurbs by Diana Wynne Jones herself, Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint and Kelly Link.)

Did you find the magick and other fantastic elements believable, or did it come across as far-fetched?
I found everything believable. The way magic works in Califa has to do with language – there are magical word, called Grammatica words, that are things of power in themselves. This close association between magic and language is something most readers will have come across in fantasy before, so it was very easy for me to accept it. It's also something I like as a concept, because it says something about fantasy, about storytelling, about what we do with language in general. And now I just can't resist linking to this poem by Jane Yolen again.

Anyway, I have to say that it’s actually rare for me not to find fantasy elements believable. The worldbuilding has to be really bad, or the story’s inner logic blatantly contradictory, for that to happen. Other than that, I tend to embrace fantasy very readily. It’s probably because I read a lot of it, so finding speculative elements in my fiction is not at all a rare occurrence.

How did you like Flora, the protagonist? What were, in your opinion, her greatest quality and her biggest flaw?
I loved Flora. She truly is a girl of spirit. Early in the book, she describes herself as follows:
I don’t have golden curls or rosebud lips, nor do I look the slightest bit like Mama. I’m not adorable, and I’m certainly not sunshiny, and I don’t see there is much in life to be happy about. Particularly not now. That’s the truth about the glory of the Fyrdraacas family.
She might not be cute or adorable, but she is determined and smart. And I hope this passage doesn’t give you the impression that she’s gloomy: far from that. She might not be happy about certain things in her life, but she never loses her sense of humour.

I think her biggest quality is her determination. She knows what she wants and she’s not afraid to go after it. As for greatest flaw, well, she can be rash, and also a bit naïve. But these flaws make her more believable, and even add to her charm. At one point in the story, Flora is mislead by another character. It’s very easy for the reader to see she’s being mislead, but Flora herself doesn’t realize it. But this didn’t make me lose my patience with her, or think any less of her. Flora is smart, but she’s not quite fourteen yet, and to make her any more savvy would also have made her less believable.

Who was your favourite secondary character? Why? Was there a character that you didn't like? Why not?
My favourite secondary character was General Fyrdraaca, Flora’s mother. She’s by no means perfect, and sometimes Flora presents her in a less than flattering light: she’s away on work-related trips a lot of the time, and she can be pushy about Flora following the family tradition and joining the army, even though she has no inclination to do so. But – and here’s the interesting thing – even though the story is told from Flora’s perspective, we do get to see beyond her perception. We realize that her mother is human, that despite her shortcomings, she tries. And by the end of the story – well, I won’t tell you what happens. But I was very happy with the way Flora’s perception (and the reader’s) of several characters changes.

I don’t think I disliked any of the characters. I was impatient with Flora’s father at times (who has been halfway between madness and sanity for years, after having been a war prisoner and having lost his daughter, the first Flora. There's more, but I can't tell you everything), but by the end of the book I found it impossible not to sympathize with him. And even the villain, if you can call it that, was not a character I actually disliked. All the characters were complex and interesting and I can’t wait to read more about them.

Were you satisfied with the ending? Why or why not?
I was, yes. We do get a resolution – both plot-wise and in an emotional sense. We get to see Flora change and grow and start on a new path. But at the same time, the ending does leave room for more. For those of you hesitant to start a new series, never fear. This book stands 100% on its own. But if you want more of this world, more of this characters – which I most certainly do, and I'm willing to bet most readers also will – you’ll be happy to know there is more.

Do you recommend the book? Are you planning on reading the sequel?
Yes and yes! As you’ve probably realized by now, I loved this book. And I’m really looking forward to reading Flora’s Dare.

Other Opinions:
Books & Other Thoughts
Bookshelves of Doom

(Let me know if I missed yours.)

17 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! FLORA'S DARE is just as good, and I'd highly recommend that you seek out the rest of Wilce's Califa stories, too. "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire" is one of my favourite short stories of all time.

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  2. This is the first I've ever heard of this book! How can that be? (Well, aside from that fact that I live in a cave and rarely venture out.) This sounds like a book I will absolutely ADORE!!! Pretty sure I know one book I'll be buying this Mother's Day. :D

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  3. The connection between magic and language always makes me think of Ursula K LeGuin's Earthsea books- that was the first place I found it so strongly emphasized in fantasy literature.

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  4. This sounds like a very fun book. Great review and questions/answers.

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  5. Memory: I definitely want to read Flora's Dare and her short stories. You know, I really hope this doesn't sound completely weird, but reading this book reminded me of you. Not just because you love it, but also because there was something about the voice that reminded me of the way you express yourself. Which isn't to say you don't have a voice that is very much your own, of course!

    Debi: I have no idea why this book isn't talked about more often! It's so good! I really think you'll love it :D

    Jeane: Yes! It definitely reminds me of Earthsea too.

    Heather, thank you! It was very fun, but serious and meaningful at the same time - my favourite kind!

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  6. This sounds fabulous. Love the title. Flora sounds like my kind of person. I shall add it to my list. Thanks for sharing Nymeth.

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  7. Ok, so the two of you are a VERY dangerous pair :p I had actually never heard of this one before y'all reviewed it, but I can't wait to read it now. And with a list of blurbs by those authors, I'm all over it!

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  8. I LOVE the title! I put this on my list after I saw Darla's review, but now that both of y'all have given it such glowing reviews, I'm bumping it up.

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  9. Sounds absolutely fascinating! I am adding this one to my list already.

    And what a fun way to review! I sometimes get so tired of my usual reviews, this is a great way to spice it up.

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  10. I really like the sound of this. The language reminds me of manga somehow. Sounds like just my kind of thing :)

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  11. I really don't need this.. but you and kelly made me send for a used copy! I'm sure it will get lost in my tbr pile for a while though!

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  12. Okay, you sealed the deal. I must obtain a copy of Blueberry Girl post haste. Thanks for your poetic thoughts on this poetic book.

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  13. I don't like the cover to your copy of this book. I like mine better... Mind you, I don't own mine, so if I buy it then I will have the same cover likely! I probably will buy it because the sequel isn't at the library. Let me know when you buy Flora's Dare. We can read it together if you want. :)

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  14. I'm so glad you are back and already adding to my TBR list. This sounds really good and I'm going to have to read it :)

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  15. Fun, fun, fun! I liked the questions and really enjoyed the answers. Always thoughtful, and never revealing the plot. I've seen this book reviewed before and it's been on my radar for a while, I just haven't got it yet. I think i might be like Debi, it might be coming home soon! I really enjoyed this post and questions with Kailana, Nymeth. Well done!

    Off to her blog now to read hers....:-D

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  16. Scrap Girl, you're welcome! I hope you enjoy it. Flora is such a great character.

    Chris: lol, look who's talking :P I really think you'll enjoy this!

    Jenny: I can't wait to see what you think of it - and you can tell me if the DWJ comparison makes sense.

    Kim: I get tired too, so it's good to vary a little bit. I love reading books along with other bloggers. It allows us to do a different sort of post, and plus it's lots of fun!

    Rhinoa: If you don't get to it before then, this is a good candidate for the next edition of our challenge :P

    Deslily: I really hope you enjoy it!

    Jessica, you're very welcome. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    Kailana: I'm actually the opposite - I don't like the other edition much :P I like how this one has a cover with two layers, and the first actually had holes where the little windows are. I guess it's cooler live :P Anyway...I'd love to read Flora's Dare with you. The only problem is that it's not out in paperback yet, and I have no other option but to buy the book.

    Sam, thank you! I hope you like it.

    Susan: This is right up your alley for sure :D I'm glad you enjoyed the questions and answers!

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  17. You know, I really hope this doesn't sound completely weird, but reading this book reminded me of you. Not just because you love it, but also because there was something about the voice that reminded me of the way you express yourself. Which isn't to say you don't have a voice that is very much your own, of course!I love Wilce's style, so I definitely consider that a compliment!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.