Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review of Flora Segunda and Musings on Familarity in Fantasy Novels

After reading the back cover of Flora Segunda, I knew I HAD to read the book. The back cover reads: 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.
It screamed intrigue and uniqueness. And I was not disappointed. The main character, a girl named Flora is a delight. She’s spunky and tries to take on the world, but seems to make everything worse. Along with that, I loved the plot of this book because, just when you think you have everything figured out, it all falls apart again.
The world Ysabeau Wilce creates is fascinating, yet rings familiar. For example, in the book there is the land of Califia next to the ocean of Pacifica. Many times, the characters speak random words that have a Spanish feel like mustatshio--even in the title segunda. This seemed to enrich the culture, making the world more real. And yet, I didn’t have to keep flipping back to page fifty-seven to remember what a particular word meant because I was already familiar with the words (even though I don’t actually know very much Spanish).

How much familiarity is a good balance in Fantasy?

I’ve noticed a spectrum of familiarity in fantasy novels. At the light end is the urban fantasy--for example Twilight. Nothing in the setting is too out of the ordinary. Cars are still cars. Towns have stores--schools have biology etc.

Next on the spectrum are novels that take place in a skewed version of our world. Think--Harry Potter. It takes place in our world, but it’s not the same. Cars fly, stores sell owls and pumpkin juice, and Hogwarts really doesn’t have a traditional biology class.

As the spectrum continues there are the stories where our modern culture is seen in relics from the past. In City of Ember, for example, the city and culture is like nothing we are familiar with, yet they have light bulbs and cans of food. It connects to our reality, but in a distant, almost distorted way.
Then on the heavy end of the spectrum, the author creates a whole new world. Classic examples of high fantasy include Robert Jordan and J. R. R. Tolkien. The cultures and settings are entirely new.

Which is best?

Honestly, it depends on the story. The beauty of a spectrum is that stories can fall anywhere in between the two endpoints. It is not a simple all or nothing situation. For writing, it’s about finding the perfect balance unique to your own story. Part of Flora Segunda’s appeal is that it fits nicely in its spot on the spectrum. The story isn’t necessarily high fantasy, but not quite an our-reality-is-in-the-past fantasy like City of Ember. It is somewhere in the middle. The balance is suitable for the style of book and the world the Ysabeau Wilce has created.

For those who write fantasy, where does your story fit on the spectrum? How does that lend strength to it?
Happy writing!
PS. Stay tuned tomorrow—I have a special blog guest! :D


  1. Great post! Many of us write fantasy and Love the mix of familiar, and yet unfamiliar. :)
    You gave a very intriguing review of this book. I shall have to put it on my to read list. Thanks, Lillian

  2. Oh! I LOVED Flora Segunda! I thought it was a great world the author created (I call it "Aztecpunk") There's a sequel, too--I liked it even better than the first.