The sequel to this book just made the Tiptree honor list, as this book did the year before, so it’s a good time to be reading it.
There’s a lot to like in this book. The female characters are good, and take roles you don’t normally expect to see. They’re in the military, just like the men and boys are, and one of them is even referred to as, I believe, ‘The Butcher’… or well, it was something bloody and unpleasant. Also, two thumbs up for them being called ‘sir’. I always liked that in Star Trek and was quite mad at Voyager and Janeway for insisting otherwise.
The setting is California.. at first I thought it was a future California and the references to magic was just technology that had been half-forgotten. But then I wasn’t so sure. It may be an alternate, fantastical California. There are Houses, which are not only the families that live in them, but the houses themselves, which have an AI (or a sentient magical demonal being thing) that is also the house and part of the family. Some alien invaders, or maybe they’re not alien, but they’re bird-like creatures, have come in. And there was a war, but they’re sort of in a truce at the moment.
Flora Segunda is the second Flora born into the family, the first one having died. Her father’s got PTSD and is generally loopy. Her mother is a General and is off doing General stuff most of the time. Leaving Flora to take care of the big house by herself. Her sister’s also off in the military. She’s almost 14 and preparing for her Catorcena party where she’ll be officially an adult and can go join the military herself. But she doesn’t want to. She wants to be a ranger. Which are cooler, sort of like spies, and they can use magic, and they’re more independent, I gather.
What’s the plot though? That’s the hard part. I had trouble following the plot. Flora seems to go off randomly in several directions, so that I can’t quite tell what her goal is half the time. She finds the denizen for her house, which has been locked up by her mother. And instead of asking her mother why, she just goes along with the plan of helping him out. Which involves giving him some of her Will. She doesn’t even seem to think twice about that.
So part of the time, she’s trying to help him get stronger and free himself from her mother’s banishment and whatnot. But then part of the time she’s gone off to try to save this Dainty Pirate guy that her mother has captured and sentenced to death. And all her attempts to do that fail spectacularly. But not for any particular reason arising from her actions or the actions of an antagonist. It’s just sort of.. fate, or coincidence. Or at least certainly seems to be. A maleficial deus ex machina if you will.
And in the middle of the muddle that the plot turns into, at least in my head, Flora’s being far too trusting of people. Especially when they’re not even people. She and her sidekick, whose name has already escaped me, meet this random mermaid guy and swallow his story whole without questioning it in the least. Or even questioning him in the least.
Now, yea, okay, they’re only 13, and maybe their lives and thoughts are a muddle. But it’s not enjoyable to try to follow. And I frequently wanted to shake her.
Interesting world and interesting society. And, like I said, some good things in here. I want to know more about these creatures and halfbreeds they’re at war with. I wonder if there’s more in the short stories that preceded this book. Or if there’s more in the sequel. So I’ll read more. But I don’t know that I’d recommend it to other people. Read it if it interests you, but if you’re looking for books to read, I have others I can suggest.