Monday, November 12, 2007


Book Report

As predicted, it's taking me about a week to recover from WFC. I've almost got my voice completely back, which I lost on the first day of the con, and today I feel near enough to normal to exercise for the first time in a couple of weeks. My brain is taking longer to recover than my body, though, which is typical. As a result, I've read precious little the last couple of weeks, and don't have anything new to report. As I've done a time or two before, then, I'll talk a little about a book I read earlier in the year, before I started posting reviews.

Ysabeau S. Wilce's Flora Segunda

That's actually not the full title. With subtitle, it's 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. And honestly, it was the subtitle that sold me on the book. Having read nothing of Wilce's before, seeing that subtitle in a capsule review spurred me to purchase it sight-unseen, and it went onto the top of my To Read list. When I finally started in on the book a few months later, around the time I went to Houston for ApolloCon, I was sorry I hadn't started it before.

I'd heard Wilce's name a few times before, the last few years, in connection with short stories in Asimov's, F&SF, and elsewhere, and we shared a ToC in Jonathan Strahan's Best Short Novels: 2007. Before reading Flora Segunda, though, I hadn't read any of those stories (though I've now hunted down and devoured them all). To any readers who have read and enjoyed things like "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire", "The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror", or "Metal More Attractive", I can't recommend Flora Segunda highly enough. And if you read and didn't enjoy those stories, I'd still recommend giving it a try.

Like many (and perhaps all) of Wilce's short stories, Flora Segunda takes places in a counter-factual/alternate-history version of California, the republic of Califa. In Califa there are four great Houses, each of which is governed by an artificially intelligent "magickal Butler," which is both a kind of agent of the house and an expression of the house's will. In the recent past Califa's Warlord led the nation in a war against their neighbors to the south, the Huitzil Empire, a variant of the Aztecs that absorbed and acculturated the Spanish instead of being conquered by them. At the war's end, an uneasy truce was struck between the two powers, but the echoing effects of the conflict are still being felt.

Flora Segunda is the story of Flora Fyrdraaca, the second of her family to bear that name. She's about to celebrate her fourteen birthday, her Cartorcena (an analogue to the quinceanera observed in Mexican cultural on a girl's fifteen birthday), on the occasion of which she's to deliver a speech celebrating her family, her House (one of the magickal variety), and her future. A scion of a military family and daughter of the Army of Califa's Commanding General, Flora is destined for a life of military service. But all she wants to do is to leave home and become a Ranger, one of a shadowy group of magic-users and scouts, celebrated in yellow-backed novels, who were officially banned at the close of the last war. Her mother is always aways on the army's business, her father is forever locked away in his room lost in drink and memories of the past, and it falls to Flora to keep her house in one piece. She has to sew her Cartorcena dress, write her speech, and keep the dogs fed, when all she really wants to do is hole up and read the adventures of Nini Mo, the greatest Ranger who ever lived. When Flora encounters the artificially-intelligent "butler" who is the expression of her house's will, she thinks she has found the solution to all her problems. But when she begins to fade, literally to turn transparent, it's clear that her problems are far from over.

From time to time I read something and immediately wish desperately that I'd written it. Flora Segunda is one of those books. This is a fantasy firmly rooted in traditions of the West, a counterfactual history blended from elements of English, Spanish, and Mesoamerican cultures. The republic of Califa is a fictional world with its own popular culture, an element often lacking from such things, and I love the fact that the saloon where all the toughs gather in Califa is an ice cream parlor. Upon finishing the book this summer I immediately sought out and devoured everything else of Wilce's I could find, which turned out to be tangentially related to Flora's story in interesting ways (at least one of which is freely available at her site). And it was with relief that I read on Wilce's blog that she was at work on a sequel. It honestly can't come soon enough.

Highly recommended to the kind of reader who thinks that the idea of tough guys bellying up to the bar in an ice cream parlor is their cup of tea.


Gee, I got a relatively normal amount of sleep at the con, didn't smoke, didn't drink to excess (well, maybe a little Friday night)...and I felt fine by Tuesday. CRAZY how that works! ;) Glad you got your voice back.
Yeah, yeah. I know. But it's fun to abuse your body at cons. Hell, by Tuesday I was just beginning to figure out what was wrong with me...
Me, I brought something back with me, resisted it till about Wednesday, then went down, was just deathly by Saturday night, and am still fighting it now. About the worst I've been sick in years. No more WFCs in cold climes - let's stick to warm places in winter!
Don't say that, dude, WFC is the only time I get to break out my coat!
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