by Ciye Cho
Florence is invisible . . . or nearly so, at least. Her full name is Florence Waverly and she lives with her mother’s property manager on Australia’s Hamilton Island. She is one of those people in high school who is barely noticed . . . by anyone . . . and when she is, Florence is marked down as an oddity, a “new girl” and then quickly forgotten. On this day of days, Florence sits alone at the back of a school bus, on a biology field trip to a smaller island – named Mermaid’s Reach – that, like Florence, is invisible most of the time because of the tides. The roll was never called at start of the trip and if something should happen to her, the disappearance would go unnoticed . . . which is exactly what takes place.

While snorkeling in the shallows, Florence is kidnapped by a merman and taken far below the surface to a kingdom named Niemela, not for her plain beauty but rather, to serve as an exotic pet at the upcoming coronation of Prince Kiren. There, she learns from Prince Kiren’s brother, Rolan, that her abductor has far exceeded his remit to find an exotic animal and there is now some question as what to do with her. King Iriego is disposed towards tossing Florence in the Nemilian prison as a permanent resident but Prince Kiren’s younger sister, Yolee, begs permission to keep her out of the way as a sort of  guest under house arrest.

Florence begins to learn about her new environment and discovers that she serves no purpose in Nemilia and therefore does not fit in. At first, she simply wants to quit Nemilia and return to the surface but over the following 6 days, her feelings about leaving become ambivalent. Florence does not really fit in to the world on land either and there is not as much to go home to as she thought. As for remaining in Nemilia, there is her friendship with Yolee to begin with and Prince Kiren does seem to have his eye on her. Prince Rolan, however, is another matter.

Ciye Cho has created a wonderful undersea world of both beauty and danger in this charming fantasy. As the story progresses, Florence seems to fit in a bit more than she did at first and comes to play a crucial role in the future of Nemilia. Things aren’t always what they seem and enemies may just turn out to be friends in this charming story for young adults. Although Florence has two princes who are interested in her – for very different reasons – it is Florence’s friendship with Princess Yolee that really steals the show. Indeed, if there is anything at all that could be construed as a disappointment in this novel, it would be that Yolee’s character fades out in the latter part of the story.

Mr. Cho’s novel is an extremely clean read which gives this reviewer hope that proof reading is not the lost art that he has come to believe it is. This fantasy is very YA friendly with enough danger and horror to give the story some action but certainly not enough to cause nightmares. This reviewer, however, is now looking at lampreys in a whole new light. Florence is a very hard book to put down and this reviewer read it almost non-stop until he was at the final scene.  The reader could almost say that it was addicting in its own way. Cho’s novel is more than suitable for younger YA’s, older ones who want a fantasy interlude and adults who simply need an escape.

Although Florence appears to be a one-off because of its story arc, Ciye Cho may wish to seriously consider writing a sequel. There is enough beauty, mystery  and adventure in the world he has created to warrant at least one more novel. This reviewer suggests Florence of  Nemilia as a title and, if nothing else, we would get to see more of Princess Yolee’s character.

This reviewer is always on the look-out for teachable moments in Young Adult Fiction and Florence certainly has a number of them. However, rather than pontificate on what these moments are and the lesson to be learned or reinforced, he strongly suggests that you read Florence and find & enjoy them for yourself. Florence will not disappoint you.

My Rating:

Ciye Cho’s website is at http://www.florence-books.com/. The website for Florence is at http://www.florence-books.com/

 

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