Thirteenth Child is written by Patricia C. Wrede. It was published in 2009 by Scholastic. It is the first in the Frontier Magic trilogy. Wrede’s website can be found here.
“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.”
What I Liked:
So, this book is the marriage of two of my favorite things: fantasy and 1800s America (a.k.a. the western expansion, Little House on the Prairie, Back to the Future III, etc.). I’m actually not sure what time period this takes place in, since this America is so vastly different (it has magic, for one thing, which has affected all sorts of historical events), but it has that wonderful 1800s-esque feel to it that I just love. And the best part is that the main character actually conforms to the time period rather than someone who rebels against it (you know, like Suzannah Snow rebelling against 20th-century norms, and every single princess in any contemporary YA fantasy rebelling against princesshood and wanting to be a fantastic archer/swordsman rather than learn boring sewing and court manners, and any female 10th walker in a Lord of the Rings fanfic yelling at King Theoden for wanting them to go to the caves rather than fighting…you know, like that). Eff wears long skirts and puts her hair up and is shocked at Rennie for eloping and is altogether my favorite person ever.
For those of you who are familiar with Wrede’s Enchanted Forest books, be aware that Thirteenth Child has a completely different tone. The Enchanted Forest books are witty and parody-esque and other wonderful, humorous things. Thirteenth Child takes a much more mature tone and, while it has its moments, is not centered on humor like The Enchanted Forest books are, possibly because of the difference in audiences (YA as opposed to more Middle Grade).
This is a slow book, spanning about thirteen years (….!!! Why did I not notice that before?) of Eff’s life. But every year is just so important in Eff’s development, I can see why Wrede took the time to use the entire book as set-up rather than just start right away when Eff is eighteen. This is quite clearly a set-up book for the rest of the series, which I assume will take place over a much shorter period of time, but I love the little details and seeing each individual character grow.
Speaking of growth, I was a bit worried about William, but Wrede, besides having a fantastic main character, also does what other authors often fail to do: she realizes that people at age seven are not the same as the same people at seventeen, and has them grow accordingly (remember The Seer and the Sword, where at age seven she was all, “I could never live that way!” and I was all, “Relax. You’re seven”?). William is annoying at first, but then quickly grows into this fantastic person who is Eff’s best friend (and future love interest…?). Great writing all around, really.
The worldbuilding is fabulous. Like I said above, fantasy + Western = awesomeness. I love the creatures-as-villains aspect, especially since the creatures are part of the aforementioned fabulous worldbuilding.
I just really, really liked this book. It was impressive and had a new spin on fantasy that was so refreshing to read.
What I Didn’t Like:
While the creatures-as-villains aspect is interesting and I like the way Wrede handles it, I hope that the next books have a more concrete human villain. It seems that Wrede is setting up the Dept. of Settlement to be a major villain-y factor, so I’m hopeful.
I am about 75% sure that this is will shape up to be a “the poor creatures are just misunderstood” type of plot, and if that happens I will probably throw the book across the room.
“If you limit yourself to one way of seeing, one truth, you will limit your power.” Uhhh…okay. Sure?
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Young Adult
Papa looked down at Lan with a rueful expression. “Lan’s a natural magician. I’ve been thinking that something would break loose soon, but I hadn’t expected anything quite so dramatic. Nor as dangerous.”
“A natural—you mean you’re a seventh son?”
“And he’s a seventh son?”
Papa nodded again.
He paused for a minute, and sighed. “We don’t know enough about the critters on the far side of the Great Barrier,” he said, half to himself. “We don’t even know what all of them are yet. I’ve seen things on the far frontier that no one here can tell me names of. You can’t ward things off if you don’t know what they are or when they’re coming.”
Those words hit me and sank in deep. I thought of some of the tales I’d heard of failed settlements, and the reasons they’d failed. I remembered Dr. McNeil’s expedition, and how they’d almost been killed because they didn’t know to look for a swarming weasel burrow near their camp, and how Brant Wilson had saved them with his pistol and knowing about bees and a lucky guess. At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do; I wanted to go into the frontier, not as a settler, but as a naturalist, to study the wildlife the way Dr. McNeil had, the way Wash said was needed.
I loved this book. There’s great worldbuilding; great character development; a slow, carefully-paced plot with great attention to said development; and a protagonist that I love simply because she’s so ordinary. I knew Wrede could write funny and quirky, but here’s proof she can write darn good fantasy.
You can buy this here: Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic)