Flora's Dare, by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Middle series installments frequently feel like stopgaps, but Ysabeau S. Wilce’s Flora’s Dare, the sequel to 2007’s Flora Segunda, is in all ways exceptional. As the story opens, fourteen-year-old Flora has discovered that her formerly crazy father was actually a lot easier to live with back when he was nuts. He’s making her life a misery, subjecting her to endless lessons, chores, and military drills. Flora, meanwhile, is secretly looking for someone to teach her magic, but her search gets complicated when her best friend takes up bounty-hunting, a series of earthquakes threaten the city, and a giant tentacle tries to snatch her out of a filthy dance hall toilet.

Critics have been comparing this series (as they inevitably do) to Harry Potter, but the biggest thing Wilce and J.K. Rowling have in common is the scope of their imaginations. Flora’s world is a wild ride of bird-headed gods, human sacrifices, and magical butlers, all set in a funhouse version of San Francisco. Wilce’s style darts all over the map, mashing together modern and old-fashioned language, action and drama, humor and horror:

“The razor barbs of the fan sliced the tentacle like it was butter. Spurting slime, the tentacle let go of my waist, wiggling and writhing. I slashed again. The tentacle slithered back toward the potty, and I pursued it, hacking at it. With a giant slurp it sucked back into the water and was gone.

The stall tilted up—I fell against the door heavily, banging hard against the purse-ledge. Plaster showered down, and outside the stall door, people began to squeal. The trembler stopped abruptly. I yanked the door and stumbled out, running into a pissy-looking dollymop.

‘Took enough time! Pigface, what the hell were you doing in there? Contemplating infinity?’ She started to push by me. ‘I almost peed my drawers.’”
The target audience of Flora’s Dare is unclear. The book is filed under “Teen Fantasy”, and its colorful cover art makes it look like a children’s story, but the novel features a hefty amount of eyebrow-raising subject matter—including a (non-explicit) attempted rape scene. The story’s faux-historical patois goes a long way towards obscuring its racier material, and phrases like “dollymop” (a Victorian-era term for an inexpensive prostitute), and “Madama Twanky’s Netherglove sheaths, size extra-large*” will probably fly right over younger readers’ heads.

Flora’s Dare does a superb job of deepening the mythology and characters introduced in Flora Segunda, and allows readers a deeper look at Wilce’s dazzlingly strange world. I closed the book wondering if Harcourt might one day release “adult” editions of this series, exposing it to the wider audience it richly deserves—and immediately started praying for a quick sequel.

*Hopefully that one’s self-explanatory.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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