The Far West: It’s Like The Oregon Trail But With Dragons

The Far West is written by Patricia C. Wrede. It is the third and final book in the Frontier Magic trilogy. It was published in 2012 by Scholastic. Wrede’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“The Far West, out beyond the settled territory, is a dangerous place. Eff knows this better than most—she’s traveled past the Great Barrier Spell, seen steam dragons, fought a pride of saber cats, and killed a medusa lizard before it could turn her and her brother to stone.

But even though there are changes at home—new nieces and nephews, a wildlife study center for the college—Eff finds herself drawn to the Far West. The government is organizing the first expedition west in a decade, and Eff wants to go with her twin brother, Lan; her best friend, William; and her mentors, Professor Torgeson, Wash Morris, and Professor Ochiba. The group of scientists, army troops, and magicians will map unexplored land and discover new types of magical wildlife. Eff will learn more about her magic and ways of looking at the world than she could ever have guessed. And she’ll need all her knowledge and strength to help take on a new threat from the West, one that could not just destroy the frontier but devastate the entire continent.”

What I Liked:

This book was an awesome culmination of everything Eff has learned over the last two books being used to counter a threat that I must say I didn’t see coming. I definitely thought that the dangers of this book would be more wildlife-based, especially considering the pattern of the last two, but while there was wildlife danger, the Big Danger was not. And it led to Eff doing some pretty cool things that everyone was shocked about, obligatorily but yet still awesomely.

Remember what I said in my review of Thirteenth Child where I thought this would be a “misunderstood creatures” type of plot? Well, thank goodness I was wrong! I don’t think I would have enjoyed this series nearly as much if that was the resolution, but the trilogy was focused more on magic than on the wildlife, and in the end the wildlife was just wildlife. And pretty cool (and scary) wildlife, at that.

William! Yes! I knew it! I mean, it was pretty obvious, but still! His jealous moments were hilarious, Eff’s obliviousness was hilarious, and overall the romance was very subtle, not sappy, and very sweet.

This is a very Man vs. Nature (or in this case, Man vs. Magic) book, which is appropriate for the Wild West, Western expansion feel of it. I still love that meld, by the way. I wish more authors did it.

Loved the little bits and pieces of alternate history thrown in. Even though it’s not prominent, Wrede did a lot of work with her worldbuilding.

I gushed about Eff’s character-type in Thirteenth Child, and let me just point out this gem of a reply that I absolutely loved: “Of all the nerve! What, you think that just because I’m going on the expedition, I’ll turn into some kind of tart?” Thank you, Eff. Thank you.

What I Didn’t Like:

I still don’t really like that the series never had a human villain. Again, this is a Man vs. Nature book (and series), not a Man vs. Man book, but some sort of human obstacle would have been nice to see.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Scary images.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

There was a brief, stunned silence. “Absorbing magic?” Professor Torgeson said finally, half to herself. “How is that possible? The thing is dead.”

“I don’t know,” Professor Ochiba said. “But every time a spell touches it, it soaks up the magic and converts it directly into more spell-resistance.”

“No wonder no one’s been able to get the evaluation spells to work,” Professor Jeffries commented.

Professor Ochiba nodded. “And if people have been trying to evaluate this creature magically, I’m surprised your preservation spells haven’t failed already.”

~Wrede 51

Slowly, I started the concentration exercise Professor Ochiba had taught me back in day school. When I was calm and centered, I let my world-sensing go just a little, just enough to feel the pendant and the layers of spells around it.

Before, I’d always studied the pendant as a whole thing, partly because that was the way I thought of it and partly because that was the way Aphrikan magic looked at most things. But the pendant and the spells weren’t just one thing. Nothing ever was, really.

What other things is this? I thought, and started a mental list of everything I could think of. The pendant was an ornament, a necklace. It was an Aphrikan teaching tool—I knew that from what Wash had told me. It was a physical thing (the robin’s egg whorl of wood) plus a bunch of magic things (the spells that wrapped it). I paused and considered on that for a minute. A bunch of spells—not just one layer wrapped around a core, but lots of layers, like an onion.

~Wrede 199-200

Overall Review:

The Far West is a great finish to the trilogy, and Eff does even more awesome things. It’s still a bit plodding, but if you can get through the first two books this one should be no problem. Love the complex magic system Wrede explains throughout the trilogy, and although I wish there was a human villain, the nature threat is pretty unique and the exploration aspect is the best part of the book.

You can buy this here: The Far West (Frontier Magic)

Across the Great Barrier: A Little Plodding, But A Nice Plot Anyway

Across the Great Barrier is written by Patricia C. Wrede. It is the second book in the Frontier Magic series. It was published in 2011 by Scholastic. Wrede’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Eff could be a powerful magician if she wanted to. Except she’s not sure she wants that kind of responsibility. Everyone keeps waiting for her to do something amazing—or to fail in a spectacular way. Worse, her twin brother, Lan, a powerful double seventh son, is jealous of all the attention she’s been getting.

Even as Eff protests that she’s just an ordinary girl, she’s asked to travel past the Barrier Spell with one of the new professors at her father’s school. The land west of the Barrier is full of dangers, both magical and wild. Eff will need to use all her strength—magical and otherwise—to come safely back home.”

What I Liked:

Wrede has a knack for making day-to-day living interesting rather than boring, and each day in Eff’s life is peeling back another layer of her character. I absolutely loved her extremely nonchalant “Got it” at the very end, as if she hadn’t just done something incredibly amazing.

I loved the main plot of this book. It was set-up nicely, vaguely unsettling, and even hinted at what the next book will entail. I loved Lan’s turnaround, especially since I was getting annoyed with him, but I felt sorry for the way his turnaround happened. Unfortunately, sometimes things like that are the only way for people to realize certain things about themselves.

I’m glad to see that Wrede isn’t making this part romance novel, as so much YA is. While I’m still holding out for Eff and William, and I guess I’ll have to wait for the third book, the romance probably won’t be very pronounced there, either. And I like the fact that Eff’s development is focused on her magic and what she finds out about the wild and her pendant, and only slightly centered on romance.

I’m anxious to see what happens with Rennie and the Rationalist settlement. Nothing bad, I hope…

What I Didn’t Like:

The book can plod a bit, and while Wrede makes it interesting, it still has that draggy feel to it. The part where Eff is back from her trip before she goes East is probably the worst. The way Wrede writes these books is very plodding, too, although most of the time it can be ignored.

I thought Eff was being so stupid when she kept blabbing to Professor Lefevre about the animals! Seriously, Eff, don’t you know that you never give important information to people you don’t know? I mean, in this case it turned out to be okay, but then I felt it was odd that this conversation, which was basically a repeat of what we already found out earlier, was in the book if it wasn’t significant. Maybe this was just more plodding.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None (well, the stone animals are a little creepy).

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

When we got back to Bejmar, we had to go over the whole business one more time for the settlement magician. “Thank you,” he said when we finished. “Both for the warning and the help.” He shook his head tiredly. “I’d hoped that with so much forage and cover gone, we’d have a year or two before the big predators came back, but it seems not. Though the smaller wildlife aren’t much better.”

“Those cats shouldn’t have been there at all,” one of the men who’d come with us burst out. “They were starving, all of them; since when does a starving animal come to a place where there’s no food?”

~Wrede 108-109

Resting in the palm of her hand was one of the grayish white rocks like the ones we’d used to line the firepit—only this one was about two inches long and the exact shape and size of a squirrel’s front paw and forearm. If you looked close, you could even see where two of the claws had broken off.

“Huh,” Champ said after a moment. “Looks like somebody’s been here before us. So?”

“How could that be?” I said. “Nobody’d come all the way out here and bury a broken statue in the middle of a big old hill, especially one that’s been around long enough to grow tress all over it. I don’t see how anyone could do that.”

~Wrede 173

Overall Review:

Across the Great Barrier continues the great mix-up of Western/fantasy, with Eff as the still-developing, quiet, awesome protagonist. While the worldbuilding and the magic system are quite complex, the book plods in places due to the “everything is important” narration-style and often repetitive elements. The stone animals, though, are suitably creepy and a great segue into the main plot.

You can buy this here: Across the Great Barrier (Frontier Magic)

Thirteenth Child: Just The Phrase “Frontier Magic” Makes Me Cackle With Glee

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.

Summary/Blurb:

“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?

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

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?”

Papa nodded.

“And he’s a seventh son?”

Papa nodded again.

~Wrede 61

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.

~Wrede 195

Overall Review:

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)