| Article by Daniel Eskridge |
Yes, the full name of the book is quite a mouthful. The titlecharacter, Flora, who is approaching her fourteenth birthday, is the second childin her family with that name, the first Flora having died in a war. She livesin a country called Califa, which seems to be a sort of alternate reality versionof California where magic is possible, but technology is nonexistent.
One of the most significant magic elements in the story is her family's home,Crackpot Hall, which has eleven thousand rooms, many of which randomly shift locations.In fact, Crackpot hall is rather run down. Her sister Idden, is away in the army, herfather is a hopeless drunk who spends his time wasting away in his room, and hermother is a workaholic bureaucrat. This leaves Flora to handle the burden ofmaintaining the house, while at the same time preparing for her Catorcena, a ceremonythat celebrates her entry into adulthood. Needless to say she is a little overwhelmed.
In Califa, there are a number of such great houses. The difference is the othersare attended to by genie-like butlers. Valefor, the butler for Crackpot hall wasbanished by Flora's mother. It turns out however, that he is not completely gone.One day, Flora's discovers him in the house's library. Little more than a paleghost, Valefor convinces Flora to secretly help restore him to his full magicalself. Flora convinces her best friend Udo, the "Glass-Gazing Sidekick", to help her.
Also important to know is that Califa is a military dictatorship run by a washed upwarlord, and times are a bit tough. The country has recently wound up on the losingside of a war with its neighbor, the Huitzil Empire, a sort of magical Incan Empire.The real power in Califa is the Commanding General. Unfortunately for Flora, thatGeneral happens to be her mother. In fact, Flora's family has a long traditionof being soldiers. The trouble is that Flora wants to be a magic-using ranger,styled after her hero, the Coyote Queen Nini Mo, who Flora sees through the filterof melodramatic pulp novels. Too bad for Flora, the rangers were disbanded aspart of Califa's conditions at the end of the war.
There's more, but I don't want to give away too much of the story. Though thebeginning is somewhat slow, the action jump starts soon enough into a series ofexciting adventures for Flora. In fact, quite a lot is packed into this novelwhich is not particularly long (it's got a lot of pages, but the print is big).The chapters are short, breaking it into easy chunks, and the action is fast paced and never lags.Also, it is told in first person, so it's easy to relate to the protagonist.Taken together, the result is a novel that is difficult to put down.In fact, it is so skillfully written that I couldn't believe it was debut novel.
For a YA adventure novel, there is a surprising amount of character development.Naturally, we get to see a lot of Flora's inner thoughts. They are very muchthose of a young teenager with hints of adult rationality mixed with youthfulnaiveté (especially evident in her jejune Nini Mo quotes). However, the readeralso gets to see unexpected sides of her parents' personalities, and Udo getssome interesting scenes as well.
Wilce also does an incredible job of developing Flora's world. She has filledCalifa with exotic locations, unique customs, and interesting characters. Thepeople of Califa even exhibit their own particular dialect. In fact, the worldis so well developed that it seems obvious that Wilce has more in store for it.
I do have one suggestion for the author. Though it may seem a bit overdonefor a fantasy novel, a map of areas surrounding Crackpot hall would have been nice.There is purpose behind the cliché. Fantasy author Sarah Monette wrote a goodessay on the subject that can be found athttp://www.broaduniverse.org/broadsheet/0609sm.html
Flora Secunda is marketed as a YA novel and it really is targeted at teens.There are a few themes that might be too mature for young kids, includingalcoholism, deceit, depression, and the consequences of war. Though, oddlyenough for Flora's age, the novel does avoid dealing with sexuality. Adults,on the other hand, might find the plot lines a bit shallow and disjointed.In other words, this novel is perfect for its target audience.