In Flora’s Dare, Flora has reached her 14th birthday and thus gained the age of maturity, but nothing has changed. Her father, though no longer drunk, has become quite a tyrant and her mother shows no signs of letting Flora pursue her dream of being a ranger (rather than go into the army, which is the family career). However, Flora is incapable of leading a boring life, and soon she must cope with the tasty but dangerous Lord Axacaya, the possession and then zombification of her best friend Udo, a giant pregnant monster imprisoned under the city who is causing earthquakes – and much more, of course.
This is an alternate world. The setting is very clearly San Francisco in California, called here the City of Califa, and various sites figure prominently in the story (the ruins of the bathhouse, the Fort, and many more) – but the culture and history are very different. It’s a world of military might and magic (the two elements being more or less inimical in this society), with everything being run by what seems to be a handful of Great Families, including Flora’s family the Fyrdraacas. There are balls and extravaganzas, but there are also seedy dives featuring thrash music and mosh pits. There are horses, spirits, and amazing fashions (Frock coats! Weskits! Stays! Kilts! And plenty of “maquillage” as make-up is called). Well-brought up people greet each other with formal gestures called courtesies, made up of bows, curtsies and gestures that have various ultra-specific meanings, such as Acknowledging Heroic Style; As a Servant to His Mistress, Respectfully but Without Servility; To One Who is Owed Great Thanks; and so on. There must be a courtesy for every situation under the sun.
Flora goes bashing about this world in an outrageously spirited and pig-headed way, her frizzy red hair flouncing and her stays straining around her plump and energetic body. Udo, gorgeous and always fabulously dressed and maguillaged (often his biggest decision of the day is whether to wear scarlet or blue lipstick), is Flora’s side-kick in her adventures – when he becomes infatuated with the Warlord’s daughter Zu-Zu, Flora is disgusted, annoyed – and perhaps jealous.
Flora narrates this tale, and so the language is florid and vivid, spiced up with outré observations of her fellow citizens, complaints about her too-tight stays, and wise sayings of the most famous ranger of them all, Nini Mo – an example is “You’d be amazed how much dry socks matter.” Although events hasten pell-mell one after another, Flora’s narration keeps the reader on course and caring deeply about her fate (which often seems headed straight toward doom of one kind or another). She is quite candid about sexy Lord Axacaya’s rather visceral effect on her, but she can’t acknowledge her feelings for Udo until the very end.
Endless excitement and boundless imagination, all centered in an exotic yet strangely familiar world and on the most exuberant of female characters. There had fiking well be a third book, is all I can say!
Grades 6 and up.