It is a very sad fact that this book is so overlooked, as it is a rare gem that everybody should try to get hold of, filled with amazing characters, strange creatures and stereotypes that get twisted on their heads!
The most unique thing about this book however is that it does not as such have a clear plot structure, but rather each chapter relates an encounter or experience with its heroine Princess Betony. In fact, the story actually starts years before her birth when the Crown Prince Max, searching for an adventure comes across the dryad Salixia and falls in love with her. Their love story reminded me a bit of ‘Aragorn-and-Arwen’ or ‘Romeo-and-Juliet’ for children, as they too are star-crossed lovers: Max is trapped within the confines of his royal duties, just as Salixia is confined to the life of her willow tree and the rules of ‘Wild Magic’ that condones love between a mortal and a magical creature. But their love is stronger than rules, even when Salixia’s tree is destroyed, and a birth of a child seals their bond — a daughter named Betony.
Also on the scene within the royal court are the delightful characters Ralph the wizard, who gives a mysterious prophesy over Betony’s crib, the wizard-in-training Clover who despises the pink her family makes her wear, Basil the gardener’s boy who falls in love with the unobtainable princess, and Rosie, Betony’s dear godmother, who may just be a fairy godmother!
As I mentioned, each chapter tells the tale of an adventure that befalls Betony and her friends and each one is original, imaginative and unconnected to the rest — it reads like a series of short stories, and you can read them out of order. If you read this to children they’ll no doubt find a favourite chapter they’ll want you to read out over and over again — whether it’s Betony discovering her long-lost grandmother Queen Cassandra, King Max frantically hunting down the hobgoblin that gets loose on the ground, Clover learning the secret to unselfish magic, Basil becoming entranced by a treacherous water sprite, Queen Salixia resisting temptation to return to her magical ways by the dragon Windrider or the final love story between Betony and Basil. My personal favourite however, is the encounter between Betony and the unicorn in the chapter “Unicorn Dawn”. There is no silly, sickly-sweet narrative here that is found so commonly in other children’s stories about unicorns and young girls who ride them like horses. The author’s narrative here is poignant, joyful and bittersweet: it really is the loveliest version of a unicorn tale I have ever read.
So I very highly recommend this little gem, and the other Floramonde books — you won’t be sorry you picked up this delightful series of tales!
Floramonde — (1996-2009) Ages 9-12. From Author’s Website: When Betony was a baby, the court wizard made a prophecy: she will be friends with strange creatures; she will face danger many times; she will find love in unexpected places; and she will become a great queen. Betony is brought up to be a proper princess, but she hates all the fuss about dancing, embroidery and the right way to talk to a viscount. She’d rather work in the garden or explore the world outside the palace. So she runs away, and through her adventures she discovers that it takes courage and the help of good friends — including a certain gardener’s boy — to find her true path in life.