Prophecies, Libels, and Dreams: Stories

Ysabeau S. Wilce  - published October 2014

paper · $16 · 9781618730893 | ebook · 9781618730909 · Audiobook: Audible.

“Once upon a time, my little waffles . . .”

Fantastical stories of rockstar magicians, murderous gloves, bouncing boy terrors, vengeful plush pigs, blue tinted butlers, and a Little Tiny Doom set in an opulent quasi-historical world of magick and high manners that bears a striking resemblance to Gold Rush California.

These inter-connected stories are set in an opulent quasi-historical world of magick and high manners called the Republic of Califa. The Republic is a strangely familiar place—a baroque approximation of Gold Rush era-California with an overlay of Aztec ceremony—yet the characters who populate it are true originals: rockstar magicians, murderous gloves, bouncing boy terrors, blue tinted butlers, sentient squids, and a three year old Little Tiny Doom and her vengeful pink plush pig.

By turn whimsical and horrific (sometime in the same paragraph), Wilce’s stories have been characterized as “screwball comedies for goths” but they could also be described as “historical fantasies” or “fanciful histories” for there are nuggets of historical fact hidden in them there lies.


“Ysabeau S. Wilce . . . writes like no one else. Her approach is playful and allusive, packed to the gills with clever wordplay, bizarre characters and outlandish events. Each tall tale is set in or around the Republic of Califa, an alternate, Aztec-influenced version of the Golden State from the 19th century, where magick is part of everyday life and wonders never cease.”
— Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

“Sometimes the fantastic insists on imbuing the world with blunt meaning — the simplistic drama of good versus evil — but other times it unearths the sense that what individuals experience is far less than what is, a reminder that the world is bigger than us. For example, the fantastic is one of the best places in fiction to find the back-to-front story, in which the apparent events of a story turn out to be less important than what is hinted at behind them, happening just off the page. Wilce’s afterwords are of this variety, hinting at a history and social structure that the (fictional) author and (fictional) audience know well, while the reader gathers scraps about the Waking World, Elsewhere, praeterhumans, and the world that has grown up in their place since the Waking World and Elsewhere split and magick faded.”

“The Republic of Califa — remarkably like the U.S. Old West, were it saturated with chaotic and cunning magic — is long past its glory days, but the wild stories remain. Wilce (the Flora Segunda series) leaps into this rollicking past with the “true” story of Springheel Jack in “The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror!” and only gets more fantastical from there. “Quartermaster Returns” demonstrates that great lengths are sometimes required to get someone to square their debts. In “Scaring the Shavetail,” Arizona soldiers invoke dangerous magic to rid themselves of a naive and inexperienced commander. Each rowdy and bloody story is followed by an afterword judging its historical and mythical merits, in one case determining that the work was “utter balderdash.” Magic and mundane mix and crash like a party falling in with a bar fight; sigils might be dug out of a mine alongside gold nuggets, and settlers die by daemon attack as often as by high-noon showdown or an Apache knife. Historical fantasy fans will want to saddle up with Wilce’s boisterous and skewed chronicle.”
Publishers Weekly

“Califa: riotous carnival world of soldiers, drunks and magick (very) loosely based on California in the 1800s. Califa: marvel of ingenuity and purple prose. . . . Ribald, raucous, distressingly appealing, so steeped in its own world that readers may well be driven to find everything else Wilce has written—this won’t be for everyone, but oh, my precious pillows, what a joy for those who can handle it.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Part of Califa’s charm is that its roots are so familiar to us, so when we come across the inevitable sideways leap off the well-trodden path, we leap down the rabbit hole after Alice, as it were. The historical notes which follow are amusing – and as always contain that little pinch of historical fact to leaven the load of hooey.” — Finding Wonderland

Early reader reaction:

“Elegant, amusing, and enormously entertaining, Ysabeau Wilce’s newest sojourn to Califa is a journey to be savored by any reader who has visited Gormenghast, Earthsea, or Olondria.  Pure delight for any lover of contemporary fantastika.”
—Elizabeth Hand

“Reading Ysabeau Wilce is like discovering a new language, dark and magical and far more fun than the one you grew up speaking. Califa and her denizens sizzle to life on the page in all of their blood-soaked, candy-colored glory; Prophecies, Libels and Dreams is a wonder.”
— Kelly Braffet, author of Save Yourself

“I would trade a year of my life, and things more precious still, to be transported for one hour to the sumptuous streets of Ysabeau Wilce’s Califa.”— Paul Witcover

“Those who have been yearning for another voyage through Califa — and who hasn’t? — will be delighted to plunge into the lives of General Hardhands and Tiny Doom, discover the mystery behind the Hand of Gory, and learn the truth of the Bouncing Boy Terror, Springheel Jack. Rich and intricate, clever and sexy, these tales never fail to deliver glorious adventure and transcendent worldbuilding. Wilce is truly a Queen among fantasists.” — Tiffany Trent, author of The Unnaturalists

“The Republic of Califa differs from the American West Coast in a number of small details, of course: the egregores and praterhumans, the Magick and Gramatica, the peculiar dynastic struggles of the Pontifexa Georgiana and her decadent postbears. But all these are the subtle and minuscule discrepancies of a parallel yet proximate reality, easily overlooked by the casual reader. Where Ms. Wilce shines is in her use of the larger effects—those of tone, style, and voice—which make her world so much richer than our own.” — Paul Park

“Ysabeau Wilce is an original American fantasist. Unique in vision, rare in quality, Califa is one of the few truly American fantasy worlds, owing as much to the Wild West, San Francisco Bay and Mexican folklore as to Shakespeare, Dickens and Tolkien.  Read and enjoy!” — Ellen Kushner

Kelly Link interviews Ysabeau S. Wilce for BookPage.

A second Flora Segunda-era interview on the Harcourt site.

Praise for Ysabeau S. Wilce’s previous books:

“This fresh and funky setting is rich with glorious costumes, innovative language and tantalizing glimpses of history.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Wilce has matters well in hand in this, her first novel. Thirteen-year-old Flora Segunda is a charming narrator, and her domain — the city of Califa — is an intriguing mix of the preindustrial and the post-multicultural, with a bracing dose of magic, martial life, time travel and family drama mixed in. The book is rich and odd, and only occasionally overprecious — like that run-on subtitle, which advertises dangers and delights just a bit too strenuously. The heroine is this novel’s strongest suit. Like Pullman’s Lyra Silvertongue or Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching, Flora Fyrdraaca is a descendant of Jo March rather than a fainting beauty who needs rescuing. These wayward, determined girls do the rescuing themselves, although not wisely or always too well.”
New York Times Book Review

Table of Contents

The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror! [Lightspeed]
Quartermaster Returns [read an excerpt | listen to the Podcastle podcast]
Metal More Attractive
The Lineaments of Gratified Desire
Hand in Glove
Scaring the Shavetail

The Author on the Book

I see myself as the historian of the Republic of Califa, with each story being a fragment of a larger whole. Although the stories do not always appear to be immediately interconnected  they often have characters or situations in common, and they all take place in the same world, although sometimes at different points in time. I love to mix the fantastical with the historical: many of my characters are based on historical people, many of my settings are from history, but I don’t consider Califa to be an alternate history, per say, only a mash-up of the things I love best from the past (redingcotes, sabers, mules, lavish hair-styles, vengeful murders) combined with the elements of fantasy I adore (monsters, magick, vampires, stew). In this, I follow both T.H. White and Gene Wolfe—and William Shakespeare, for that matter, although I do not claim to be in any of these gentlemen’s league.

About the Author

Ysabeau S. Wilce was born in California and has followed the drum throughout Alaska, Spain, Mexico, Arizona, and Elsewhere. A lapsed historian, she turned to fiction when facts no longer compared favorably with the shining lies of her imagination. Prior to this capitulation, she researched various arcane military subjects and presented educational programs on how to boil laundry at several nineteenth century army forts. She is a graduate of Clarion West and has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the James T. Tiptree Award, and won the Andre Norton Award. Wilce is the author of Flora Segunda, Flora’s Dare, and Flora’s Fury, and she has published work in Asimov’s, Steampunk!, and Fantasy & Science Fiction. She lives in San Francisco.