Book review: “Flora’s Dare” by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Flora’s Darebuy it
by Ysabeau Wilce—her website
Recommended Ages: 12+

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In the sequel to Flora Segunda, Flora Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca, fourteen-year-old heroine of an alternate-history version of San Francisco called Califa, finds out what her true name is. And while I’m mentioning it, I might add that the full title of this book is Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room). Now take a deep breath, for three reasons: first, because that title was a lungful; second, because you’re about to follow Flora on an adventure that will take her underwater for quite some time; and third, because Flora’s world (designed by an author who boasts a graduate degree in military history) is so strange, so distinctive, so full of quirky surprises, so closely crammed with unfamiliar language and opportunities to boost your word power, that most likely you will almost—but not quite—give up. Almost, because it’s going to make you work. Not quite, because it’s so convincing and entertaining.

Flora was born in the aftermath of a devastating war between Califa and the Huitzil Empire, which practices human sacrifice and includes a race of winged, bird-headed people. The Birdies, as Flora’s folk pejoratively call them, now rule Califa through a puppet Warlord, and keep an eagle eye on the city. The first sign of resistance to Huitzil rule could bring death and disaster to the city. So when Flora meets her elder sister Idden at a rave, and learns that Idden has deserted from the Army and joined a radical resistance group, the horror Flora feels is surpassed only by that of the slimy tentacle that attacks her in the club’s filthy toilet.

The tentacle proves to be a sign that the Loliga—a massive, indescribable creature currently in the shape of a giant squid, that has long been trapped and magically bound in the watery caves beneath the city—is struggling to break free. Its struggles are already causing a series of increasingly devastating earthquakes. Unless the Loliga is freed, and soon, Califa will be destroyed.

The trouble is that Flora is the only one who can do anything about it; but she doesn’t know what to do. She seeks the advice of the strangely magnetic Huitzil Ambassador, from whom she also hopes to learn enough Gramatica (magical words of power) to become a Ranger (sort of a secret agent/wizard), like folk hero Nini Mo. But after an unplanned bit of time-travel reveals Flora’s real identity—a secret her Mamma has kept from everyone else—Lord Axacaya proves to be an even more immediate threat to Flora’s safety. Now, with a deadly enemy closing in behind her and the destruction of her city looming ahead, Flora must bet her life on the Ultimate Ranger Dare in the haunted home of a ruling family, long thought to be extinct. And she can look for help to no one but a small red dog, a toy pig, a terrifying blue butler, and a boy possessed by a pair of demonic bouncing boots (which is a whole subplot I haven’t time to explain).

Flora is a hilarious and endearing narrator: gifted with a quirky sort of folk-wisdom fed by yellowback novels; plucky and heroic, yet honest enough to own up to her own moments of pettiness and vulnerability; impatient yet forgiving of the foibles of her ex-drunk-now-all-too-responsible father, her tough military mother, her get-rich-quick-scheming best friend, her often-whining ectoplasmic butler, and the crazy fashions and customs of her bayside city. Her adventure strains at the seams with impressive (and sometimes scary) magic, weird creatures, macabre humor, blood-chilling danger, and a whole spectrum of character and cultural colors that you won’t see most anywhere else.

This is Book 2 of the trilogy titled either Crackpot Hall (based on the website listed on the back cover) or Flora Fyrdraaca (based on title of the omnibus edition). It won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, an honor shared by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and several other books I have reviewed. The third book of the trilogy is titled Flora’s Fury: How a Girl of Spirit and a Red Dog Confound Their Friends, Astound Their Enemies, And Learn the Importance of Packing Light.

This book was pretty good! I would recommend adding it to your reading list.
This book was pretty good! I would recommend adding it to your reading list.