It is entirely Ellen Kushner’s fault that I had to have this trilogy. On the SF Squeecast, her squee was so convincing and she made the books sound so utterly charming that I couldn’t resist. And I can agree with her – this is an adorable little tale of an ambitious 14-year-old who lives in the coolest house since Hogwarts.
Published: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007
Series: Flora Segunda #1
My rating: 7/10
First sentence: Crackpot Hall has eleven thousand rooms, but only one potty.
Flora knows better than to take shortcuts in her family home, Crackpot Hall – the house has eleven thousand rooms, and ever since her mother banished the magickal butler, those rooms move around at random. But Flora is late for school, so she takes the unpredictable elevator anyway. Huge mistake. Lost in her own house, she stumbles upon the long-banished butler – and into a mind-blowing muddle of intrigue and betrayal that changes her world forever. Full of wildly clever plot twists, this extraordinary first novel establishes Ysabeau Wilce as a compelling new voice in teen fantasy.
Flora does not want to follow in her military family’s footsteps. She dreams of becoming a ranger, like the heroine from her favorite yellowback-books, the famous Nini Mo. But rangering requires magick and all sorts of other skills – and in Flora’s family, one goes to the Barracks after one’s Catorcena, and one dares not express the wish for anything else. So Flora prepares for her fourteenth birthday, makes her dress, writes her invitations, and – by accident – stumbles into a huge adventure. Flora, her best friend Udo, and the little red dog Flynnie, have to figure out a plan to save a man’s life, survive the house butler’s whims, keep Flora’s dad (whom she calls Poppy) from wrecking the house, and the most important thing: keep all of this secret from General Fyrdraaca, Flora’s mamma.
Ysabeau S. Wilce gives her protagonist Flora a wonderfullly convincing 14-year-old voice. Flora, with her head in the clouds (or should I say in pulp novels), has something of Alice in her. She gives herself very good advice – and frequently so – but rarely follows it. Don’t think you can fool Flora. She knows how a proper adventure works and this novel is full of quotes by Flora’s heroine Nini Mo about what makes a true ranger. This gives the book an adorable tone of dreams and teenage ambition that reminded me of myself as a child.
This adventure is set in a highly interesting world. Flora lives in town called Califa which has just made a balance-act peace with the Huitzil empire. While it is never clear where exactly the story is set, it feels like an alternate Mexico where the Aztects are following gruesome rituals of human sacrifice, people speak the occasional Spanish, and pirates roam the seas. I can’t wait to see more of this crazy world. My favorite aspect was easily Crackpot Hall, Flora’s house that behaves suspiciously like Hogwarts, with shifting rooms, staircases that lead into nowhere and a ghost-like butler.
While on one occasion, I felt that Flora and Udo got what they wanted too easily, most of the story is not straight-forward at all. The author surprises us with a couple of twists along the way and the ending was so good, it made me glow on the inside with happiness. Personally, I would have enjoyed more stories of Crackpot Hall, and some of the initial magic of this tale gets lost along the way – but that is a small point of critique compared to the joy this read has brought me. Here is a fast-paced adventure of crazy proportions with a lovable cast – down to the dogs and the horse – a fantastic world and a girl who reads novels. What’s not to love?
THE GOOD: Great characters, wonderfully magical world-building, and some fantastic plot twists.
THE BAD: Unbelievable on one particular occasion, loses some of its magic in the middle part.
THE VERDCIT: Highly recommended to children and adults alike. A fun romp through an original world and characters you can’t help but love.
RATING: 7/10 Very good
The Flora Segunda Series: