Flora Fyrdraaca lives in a magical house with a magical butler, but both house and butler have seen better days. Though the Fyrdraaca family is one of the big names in the city of Califa, you wouldn't know it to see Flora trying to manage the household and her mentally damaged father on her own while her mother, the Commanding General of the Army, is off on business. Then one day, shortly before her fourteenth birthday, Flora stumbles upon the house's banished butler in a lonely library that Flora has never seen before. The butler, a magical spirit named Valefor who used to be in charge of making sure the Fyrdraaca family lived in luxury, is now a pale shadow of his former self. But, he tells Flora, with her help he can be restored, and she'll be relieved of the burden of keeping up the house without magic. Tired of running herself ragged and tempted by a small taste of the Valefor's magical powers (including delicious foods he can whip up), Flora agrees, bringing her best friend Udo along for the ride. Of course, nothing goes quite the way Flora plans, and so there are all sorts of zany magickal hijinks and whatnot.
Okay, so. What makes this book so great? Well, first off, it's stunningly original and detailed in its worldbuilding. Sure there's hints of inspiration from real world cultures, but there's no way you could say, "Oh, it's like Victorian England but with magic," or anything so simple as that. Indeed, the dominant real-world inspiration seems to be Spanish, such as the Catorcena, the celebration of the fourteenth birthday, when a child becomes an adult. The fashions are another thing entirely, with everyone, men and women, wearing skirts or kilts for the most part. That's a simple but quick indicator that this isn't Western Europe as we know it. And the world-building and glimpses of history we see all fit together tightly. And I particularly like the detail given to the adventures of Nini Mo and her rangers.
Ah, this is why I shouldn't be lazy about writing these reviews, all the things I want to say become less fresh in my mind. But let's see. Well, the plot makes sense, moves quickly, and packs in a lot of action. The system of magic is clever and mysterious, but never seems to break its own rules. What I really loved was the depth given to all the characters. Flora's parents, in particular, have multiple facets and parts of their histories that aren't explored but which still affect their behavior and the story. That is, the first book doesn't give it all away. Flora is a fine protagonist. She's flawed but personable, doesn't always succeed, gets called out when she deserves it, and is an active heroine. Valefor and Udo both are good supporting characters and act as foils for Flora and each other. Well. Anyway, there's a second book in the series, and I have ordered it from the library, so we shall see how Flora's story continues to unfold since, like, all the best series, there is still plenty more to learn about our heroine and her world, more than could be covered in one book.