Friday, May 3, 2013

Review: Thirteenth Child - Patricia C. Wrede

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
Series: Frontier Magic Trilogy #1
Genre: YA, alternate history, alternate reality, fantasy
Published on April 15, 2009
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 344
Read From: 4.28.13 - 5.1.13

Eff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he's supposed to possess amazing talent - and she's supposed to bring doom to everyone around her. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that protects settlers from the beasts of the wilderness. 
Eff and Lan do not know what awaits them in such an unknown place. There are steam dragons that hover in the sky, and strange creatures that could undermine the homesteaders' very existence. Eff is allowed to learn magic with the other students - but there's always the threat of it going horribly wrong. As a thirteenth child, Eff always feels one short step away from complete ruin. 
As Eff and Lan grow older, they face challenges they never could have dreamed of. And then their magic is put to the test in a standoff that will alter their lives forever.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? It really doesn't do anything for me either way. I like the title font and the dragon at the bottom, but there's nothing about the cover that excites my interest - other than the dragon. This is another case of the Author is what got me to read it.

Characters: Eff could have been a pretty good protagonist, I think, if she had been given the opportunity to actually do something. But all she does throughout the whole book is watch other people do things. Eff's sole purpose is to observe and narrate, and hardly anything else. It surprised me, actually, how unimportant she really is to the story, considering the book's title is named after her. Other than her inactive role, though, Eff is all right. She spends too much time blaming herself for everything, but she has spunk, and I love the relationship she has with her twin brother Lan. Eff has every reason to be jealous of Lan, and even resent him, but she doesn't - she's as proud of her brother as the rest of her family is. Likewise, Lan could hate Eff for her potential of being unlucky, but instead he's very protective of her. It's kind of funny, because technically Eff is the elder of the two, but Lan behaves more like the eldest twin. Uncle Earn isn't in the story much, but I had a remarkable hatred for him every time he picked on Eff for being the thirteenth child, and when he tried to stir up trouble among the family. My feelings for the rest of the characters was pretty lukewarm: they were good as "extras," but I didn't get attached to any of them, not even William.

The Romance: There isn't any!

Plot: Francine (Eff) is the thirteenth child, and therefore unlucky. That's the popular belief, and Eff's relatives are determined that she not jinx her twin brother Lan, who is the seventh son of a seventh son, which means he'll grow up to become one of the most powerful magicians. But when Eff's Uncle Earn tries to have Eff arrested when she's five, Papa decides that it's time for their family to move out of Helvan Shores to the frontier. Mill City is right along the Great Barrier, which protects the Columbian settlements from the west's fantastic and dangerous creatures. Settlements on the other side of the Mammoth River are attacked all the time, despite the settlement magicians' best efforts. As Eff grows up in Mill City, learning about magic, frontier perils, and her own abilities, she struggles with the idea that maybe she really is unlucky. And when a plague of strange beetles, impervious to magic, start destroying settlement crops, Eff wonders if maybe being a thirteenth child is bad after all. It really isn't nearly as exciting as either the official synopsis and my synopsis make it sound. The book spends much more time on Eff's growing up than the frontier dangers, and the bugs don't even show up until the end of the book. It was much more of a "lifetime" story than a fantasy adventure. Eff recounts several years and daily things that happen in that time. Her growing up and learning all the different styles of magic (Aphrikan, Avrupan, and Hijero-Cathayan), the constant expansion of Mill City, the establishing of a non-magic settlement, and a few sightings of magical wildlife. And as I said earlier, nothing happens to Eff. She spends all of the story observing and watching, but doesn't really do anything. I have hopes that this might change as the trilogy progresses. Thirteenth Child seems to spend most of its time with world building, and so long as that doesn't persist through two more books, I'm pretty all right with that. Because I'll admit: the world is intriguing.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: Sadly, this book does not possess the Author's usual wit and humor. Eff, I think, does possess something of a sense of humor, but it doesn't really make itself all that apparent in Thirteenth Child. But where the humor fails, the Author makes up for it in world building. Eff lives in an alternate-reality/alternate-history of Frontier-era America. Some places still have the same names - like Pennsylvania and the East Coast, - while other places don't. Lewis and Clark's expedition was a failure, due to an overwhelming amount of magical wildlife like steam dragons and woolly rhinos and spectral bears, the Founding Fathers were warlocks, and there are no American Indians. At first, I really wasn't certain if I liked the world. Magic and the frontier don't go together in my mind. I can do Victorian England and magic; the Regency or even Edwardian Era and magic. But frontier? However, after a while, I got used to it, and it was kind of awesome. The Author does a pretty good job of setting her world up, too. I was initially a little confused (is this historical fantasy? An alternate reality?), but I got it straightened out pretty fast, and began to enjoy it. I was not, unlike some Readers, bothered with the exclusion of American Indians. Writers can't have American Indians in stories nowadays without 1)being accused of racism, or 2)portraying them, inaccurately, as wise and peaceful nature-lovers. Thirteenth Child is a magical alternate world; there's nothing wrong with inserting or deleting people as the Author sees fit.

Content: None.

Conclusion: The plot with the beetles doesn't come in until here, and unfortunately it isn't much more exciting than the rest of the book. It took me a few moments to realize what was going on with the beetles, and when I finally did, I was immensely pleased with myself. It may not have been an exciting plot, but it was relatively interesting. And Eff finally gets to do something. As insubstantial as the plot for Thirteenth Child was, I did enjoy the world building, and I have high hopes that the plot will improve with the other two books. I liked Eff and Lan well enough, but it was the world I mostly enjoyed. It was unique and interesting, and I look forward to learning more about it.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and-up due to interest level, fans of historical fantasy and alternate worlds or alternate histories, only with magic.

Others in the Frontier Magic Trilogy:
1)Thirteenth Child
2)Across the Great Barrier
3)The Far West

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