Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Talking to Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, was first published in 1985 by Harcourt. It is the sequel to Calling on Dragons.

Always be polite to dragons! That’s what Daystar’s mother taught him…and it’s a very wise lesson—one that might just help him after his mom hands him a magic sword and kicks him out of the house. Especially because his house sits on the edge of the Enchanted Forest and his mother is Queen Cimorene. But the tricky part is figuring out what he’s supposed to do with the magic sword. Where is he supposed to go? And why does everyone he meets seem to know who he is? It’s going to take a particularly hotheaded fire-witch, a very verbose lizard, and a badly behaved baby dragon to help him figure it all out. And those good manners certainly won’t hurt!

The most fascinating thing about Talking to Dragons is that although it is book four in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, it was actually written first. So, basically, Wrede wrote this book, then five or so years later she decided to write three prequels, and Talking was edited to fit—things like Telemain’s technobabble weren’t in the first edition (and this is also probably why Talking has a lack of fairy tale references as opposed to the first three). Wrede worked backward off of this book to give us the material in the first three, which I find fascinating, personally.

Talking is much more Hero Quest-oriented than the other three books: Daystar is given a sword and is sent off on a quest, only he doesn’t know anything about it. But even though it’s more of a familiar trope than the other books, Wrede still manages to make it her own. I love the lizard, Suz, and the dragon that accompanies Daystar and Shiara on their quest. The part with the princess and the knight is especially funny.

And, yes, since this was written first, there is some slight plot discontinuity with the other three books, such as some things dealing with the sword, the number of Morwen’s cats (although I suppose that a couple could have died, or she could have given kittens away as she did with Nightwitch), and some of the mechanics behind the imprisonment of Mendanbar. But I really enjoy Talking all the same, even if it is a little different from the others.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“It sounds a lot like Antorell,” I said finally.

“Antorell?” Shiara asked.

‘The wizard that Mother melted. She said he might try to make trouble for me in a day or two.”

“Oh, great. All we need is another wizard looking for us.”

The Princess didn’t seem to be following the conversation at all. “Alas!” she said finally. “There is nothing left for me but grief. I have no means now to save my love, so I shall die with him. I shall fling myself in yonder stream and make an end.”

“You are even dumber than Daystar,” Shiara informed her. “That stream isn’t deep enough to drown in.”

Overall Review:

Talking to Dragons is the fourth and last book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, but was actually written first, and if read first reads as a fun little story about a Hero’s Quest to save the Forest from evil wizards. Read last, of course, it’s the resolution to a three-book-long problem and feud. Either way, it’s delightful, even with its plot discontinuity.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1p2tHRa

Calling on Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Calling on Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, was published in 1993 by Harcourt. It is the sequel to Searching for Dragons.

Princess Cimorene is now Queen Cimorene…and she’s faced with her first queenly crisis—the Enchanted Forest is threatened with complete destruction! Those wizards are back—and they’ve become very smart. (Sort of.) They’ve figured out a way to take over the forest once and for all…and what they have planned isn’t pretty. With a little help from Kazul the dragon king, Morwen the witch, Telemain the magician, two cats, and a blue, flying donkey-rabbit named—what else?—Killer, Cimorene might just be able to stop them. And some people think that being a queen is easy.

Calling on Dragons is probably my favorite Enchanted Forest book because of Morwen’s cats and Killer (and Telemain, my favorite character). The books are funny, but I never had a laugh-out-loud moment until this one, where the catness of the cats, the ridiculousness of Killer, and Telemain’s technobabble combined to make me grin and laugh all the way through.

Up until now, each book has been relatively self-contained in terms of plot. Characters and villains return, but the plots don’t carry over—until now. The ending of this book, while not technically a cliffhanger, is not a resolution in the slightest. And despite my aversion to the common “save it all for the last book” formula, I actually didn’t mind it—although it is aggravating to finish a book and feel as if nothing was accomplished.

There’s still a lot of set-up, I think, in this book, but despite the first three books basically all setting up the events of the fourth, Wrede has done a good job of making a contained adventure for each book. And since this is a series, and not four stand-alone books, it makes sense that there would be a lot of set-up for the ultimate Whiz Bang Finish (and, ultimately, I enjoyed this book too much to care).

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

The wizard drew himself up to his full height, which brought his head about even with Fiddlesticks’s nose. “I am Antorell, and if you know what is good for you, you will not meddle with me!” he said in a shrill voice.

“I might have known,” Morwen said.

“What’s that?” Telemain said, looking up. “Morwen, these readings are absurd. This fellow can’t be very good.”

Antorell’s face turned bright red. Morwen smiled. “He isn’t. This is Antorell, Telemain.”

“Antorell, Antorell. Oh. The son of Head Wizard Zemenar?”

“That’s right,” Antorell said. “And you’ll regret—”

“”Isn’t he the one Cimorene keeps melting?” Telemain said. “And shouldn’t he be larger?”

Overall Review:

Calling on Dragons is my favorite so far (if not overall) in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The dialogue, especially the side comments made by Killer and the cats, is snappy and witty and spot on. There’s not really a resolution to the plot, since that’s the job for the fourth book, but that didn’t bother me for once. Also, Morwen is probably my favorite “main” character (view point character) of the series.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1VBXsoS

Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, was published in 1991 by Harcourt. It is the sequel to Dealing with Dragons.

Cimorene, the princess who refuses to be proper, is back—but where is Kazul the dragon? That’s what Cimorene is determined to find out. Luckily—or perhaps not-so-luckily—she’s got help; Mendanbar, the not-very-kingly King of the Enchanted Forest, has joined her in her quest. So with the aid of a broken-down magic carpet, a leaky magical sword, and a few buckets of soapy lemon water, they set off across the Enchanted Forest to tackle the dragon-napping and save the King of the Dragons.

I normally don’t like it when authors switch viewpoints, but I’ve always enjoyed the way Wrede changes the viewpoint character for each of the Enchanted Forest books. In Searching, we get to see Cimorene from another person’s point of view, which reveals some character flaws (a good thing) that weren’t as noticeable in Dealing, such as her impatience.

We also get introduced to Mendanbar, his sword, the gargoyle, and Telemain, all of whom I remember the most from previous readings of the books. The wizards returns as the main villain, and while that is a little tiresome, I understand why Wrede continuously brings them back—not just because the four books have a continuous plot arc, but because of something about the order of the books that I’ll discuss in my review of the last book, Talking to Dragons. So, I know why she does it, but at the same time, I wish something else besides a two-page encounter with rock snakes served to trip our heroes up a bit.

Rereading this book, it is now more obvious to me that Dealing with Dragons is really just set-up. It’s good, funny set-up, but still just set-up for what happens in the third and fourth books. Wrede’s twists on fairy-tales and Cimorene’s (and Mendanbar’s) practical ways to help those they come across just combine to make a really fun adventure. And Telemain’s technobabble is also a plus (Telemain in general is fantastic).

Another great thing about this book, and the series in general, is all the running jokes: Antorell’s ineptitude; Telemain’s technobabble as well as his incredibly inopportune “I want to study this magic” moments; and, of course, the run-ins with recognizable fairy-tale characters with backstories just slightly different than what we’re used to.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Well?” she said in an exasperated tone. “Are you going to stand there like a lump, or are you going to tell me what you want? Although I think I already know.”

“Excuse me,” Mendanbar said. He pulled himself together and bowed uncertainly. “I think there’s been some sort of mistake. I’m looking for Kazul, the King of the Dragons.”

“I’ll bet you are,” the young woman muttered. “Well, you can’t have her. I handle my own knights and princes.”

“I beg your pardon?” Mendanbar said, blinking.

Overall Review:

Searching for Dragons continues the charm and fun of Dealing while introducing new characters and new things for the heroes to worry about. There are still some flaws, like the fact that there’s noticeably (if you’ve read the series before) a lot of set-up for the third and fourth books, and as fun as it is, I still don’t like it as much as the next two books (one of the reasons why I gave it the same rating, 3 out of 5, as the first book). But I love what Wrede is doing with fairy tales references and the sensibility of the characters is great, too.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1SCQXQm

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, was published in 1990 by Harcourt.

Meet Princess Cimorene—a princess who refuses to be proper. She is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart….And bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon. And not just any dragon, but Kazul—one of the most powerful and dangerous dragons around. Of course, Cimorene has a way of hooking up with dangerous characters, and soon she’s coping with a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird, a stone prince, and some very oily wizards. If this princess ran away to find some excitement, it looks like she’s found plenty!

I normally don’t like the “princesses refuse to be proper princesses” trope, but Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles is one of my favorite series and does the rebellious princess trope in a way that actually makes me like it. For one thing, it’s refreshing to read about a princess who chooses to spend her days cooking and organizing and cleaning. For another, the book is also silly and funny, which makes it even better.

Wrede pokes a lot of fun at numerous fairy tales in this book and subverts them in the process, while also building her own fantasy world revolving around the politics of dragons and wizards. Cimorene’s world is not just another “let’s stuff a bunch of fairy tale references in” type of world, but one that is slightly more developed—while still relying on fairy-tale-esque elements. The book also reminded me slightly of Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, if only because both Cimorene in this book and Aerin in that one come up with a way to make themselves dragon-fire-proof.

This isn’t my favorite Enchanted Forest book, if only because I find it tends to drag in places. It takes a while for things to start happening and Cimorene’s sensibility can be grating at times. And at one part one character says something that is an obvious “Pay attention! It’s going to be important later!” moment. But there’s a lot of charm and memorable moments in this book, which tends to make the not-so-great parts less apparent.

I also love the cover art of this particular edition of the book (and the other three in the series); it really matches the whimsical tone of the series as a whole.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What can I do for you?” Cimorene said after several moments had gone by and the knight still hadn’t said anything.

“Well, um, if you are the Princess Cimorene, I’ve come to rescue you from the dragon,” the knight said.

Cimorene set the point of the broadsword on the ground and leaned on it as if it were a walking cane. “I thought that might be it,” she said. “But I’d rather not be rescued, thank you just the same.”

“Not be rescued?” The knight’s puzzled look deepened. “But princesses always—”

“No, they don’t,” Cimorene said firmly, recognizing the beginning of a familiar argument. “And even if I wanted to be rescued, you’re going at it all wrong.”

Overall Review:

Dealing with Dragons, while not a fantastic book, is a very memorable one, and its slight bumps and wobbles are largely masked by its charm. It’s a book that is recognizable and yet builds new on top of the old. I don’t think it’s the best book in the series, but it does a fantastic job of paving the way and showing what the next ones will be like.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1Mlqh1z

The Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

The Mislaid Magician, or Ten Years After, by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, was published in 2006 by Harcourt. It is the sequel to The Grand Tour. 

Ten years after the adventures they shared in Sorcery and Cecelia and The Grand Tour, cousins Kate and Cecy are at it again. To untangle a plot that threatens the very unity of the kingdom, they must learn the secret shared by a night prowler, a mute girl, and a missing magician. On orders from Lord Wellington himself, Cecy and her husband, James, are sent north to investigate. Kate and her husband, Thomas, stay home, minding James and Cecy’s brood as well as their own. Childcare takes on a whole new dimension when all five children begin to cast spells themselves. While Cecy and James are off learning the perils of steam engines and stone circles, the questions in the letters between the two couples multiply: What’s causing the eruptions at Halliwar Tower? Who put the grass snake in the nursery? What has prompted Kate’s sister to make an unannounced visit to the country at the height of the social season? And will the mysterious rescued girl ever speak?

I am incredibly torn in my thoughts about The Mislaid Magician. On the one hand, I loved Sorcery and Cecelia so much that I cannot help but like this one, the last in the trilogy. On the other hand, I felt that Sorcery and Cecelia had something that was missing in the next two books, which was a subtle sort of cheekiness and fun. The fun was missing for me, especially in this book, as the plots got more complicated. Sure, there are fun moments, but it’s not underriding the whole novel as with S & C. Frankly, this book was, unfortunately, a little boring.

In The Grand Tour, I mentioned the imbalance that I felt between Kate and Cecelia, and I felt it again in this book. This time, it wasn’t so much of quantity of viewpoints than quality. Kate, I felt, got a little bit pushed to the side as Cecelia was investigating the main bulk of the plot. About the middle of the book is a letter from Kate to Cecelia, where Kate basically says that she has nothing to talk about. That summarizes perfectly how I felt about Kate’s activities throughout the book. Compared to Cecelia and James, she just didn’t have as much to do.

Kate’s lack of involvement with a majority of the plot means that at the end I felt highly dissatisfied with the conclusion. In The Grand Tour, Kate gets a really awesome moment when everyone else has been obstructed by the villain. In this book, she gets another awesome moment, but my problem with this awesome moment is that it means that, for another book, Cecelia does absolutely nothing awesome at all even though she and James had to deal with the main plot line. In fact, in her and James’s part of the plot, it’s James who gets to be awesome, not Cecelia. And I really wish Cecelia got an awesome moment in this book because her awesome moment in Sorcery & Cecelia was very awesome, and I feel that awesome Cecelia was lost after the first book.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

I threw myself at him, and his hat fell off as he gathered me to him. I couldn’t speak at first, and when I could, it was to utter pure idiocy. “You’ve come.”

“Of course I have,” Thomas said gently. “I was almost here when you called me. Shouting down a rain barrel ain’t in it, my darling. You’ve half deafened me.”

“My calling spell worked?”

“Not that it needed to. I was only half a mile away,” said Thomas. “It worked a treat. And you’ve cast a finding spell to match it. If you cast any more spells of that caliber, my head may come clean off.”

Overall Review:

I did enjoy The Mislaid Magician because it is Regency fantasy, after all, but I felt that the book was missing the fun that I loved so much in Sorcery and Cecelia. Also, I was disappointed that once again Cecelia got pushed aside in favor of Kate in terms of awesome moments, because I really wanted Cecelia to show her awesomeness, too.

You can buy this here: The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After

The Grand Tour: Magic & Adventure & A Turkish Slipper

The Grand Tour, or the Purloined Coronation is written by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. It was published in 2004 by Harcourt. It is the sequel to Sorcery & Cecelia.

Shopping in Paris, sightseeing in the Alps, riding gondolas in Venice—the Grand Tour planned by spirited cousins Kate and Cecy and their new husbands, Thomas and James, should be the perfect celebration of their whirlwind courtships. That is, until…The seasickness. The long carriage rides over bumpy roads. The midnight intruder who leaves behind a fashionable Turkish slipper. The tediously educational visits to ancient sites (where they always seem to run into the same peculiar people). And, oh yes, the mysterious parcel that hints at a murderously magical plot of international importance. Now the newlyweds must embark on a daring chase across the Continent. But what with Cecy’s explosive attempts to hone her wizardry, Kate’s alarming propensity for losing gloves, and a trial of misconstrued clues, will they be able to thwart the evil conspiracy in time? Clearly, this isn’t quite the calm and relaxing journey the girls were expecting. Though who cares, because this unconventional Grand Tour is turning out to be the best adventure of their lives!

The Grand Tour continues the fun of Sorcery & Cecelia, with even more intrigue, danger, and adventure. While I’m unsure of how, exactly, magic works in this world, Cecelia and Thomas do and experience some awesome things with it, and Kate has a particularly awesome moment in the end, as well. I also love the concept of knitting letters to other people.

Stevermer and Wrede do a really good job with the plot, building it up with little mysteries and hints and then bringing it all together in the end neatly. I know that in Sorcery & Cecelia they did not know what the other person was doing in terms of plot, and I wonder if it was the same, here. It seemed a bit too unified within the two viewpoints for that, but perhaps they’re just very good.

My one complaint is that the book seemed unbalanced between Kate and Cecelia’s viewpoints. Kate seemed to have much more frequent narrations than Cecelia; no sooner did we get one Cecelia entry than two or three Kate entries followed. In addition, Cecelia’s entries were very technical and focused on magic, whereas Kate’s actually delved into her love for Thomas a little bit. Kate and Thomas were very affectionate and loving, but Cecelia and James may as well not even have been married for all the attention they showed each other during her narrations.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Mr. Brummell’s face went quite expressionless. He fingered the bottle for a moment, then, holding the stopper carefully in place, he turned it over and made a brief examination of the underside. “Ah,” he said in a satisfied tone, and returned it to Lady Sylvia.

“‘Ah’?” said Thomas. “I could have said that much myself.”

“You just did,” James told him.

Mr. Brummell ignored them both and looked at Lady Sylvia. “I believe the rather blurred mark on the base of the flask is the seal of the Archbishops of Notre-Dame in Paris. As you might reasonably be assumed to be traveling to Paris, I suspect you were meant to take the flask there.” He paused, considering. “Under the present circumstances, I am not at all sure that would be wise.”

Overall Review:

The Grand Tour continues the high fun and adventure of Sorcery & Cecelia on an even grander scale, and the two authors manage the plot really well between the two of them. The book seemed a bit unbalanced between the two viewpoints, however, and Kate was the only one who acted married.

You can buy this here: The Grand Tour

Sorcery & Cecelia: The Perfect Blend of Regency and Fantasy

Sorcery & Cecelia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot is written by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. It was published in 2003 by Harcourt.

There is a great deal happening in London this season. For starters, there’s the witch who tried to poison Kate at the Royal College of Wizards. (Since when does hot chocolate burn a hole straight through one’s dress!?) Then there’s the strange spell that’s made Dorothea the toast of the town. (Could it possibly have something to do with the charm-bag under Oliver’s bed?) And speaking of Oliver, just how long can Cecelia and Kate make excuses for him? Ever since he was turned into a tree he hasn’t bothered to tell anyone where he is! Clearly, magic is a deadly and dangerous business. And the girls might be in fear for their lives…if only they weren’t having so much fun!

I had a big fat grin on my face the whole time I was reading this book. Sorcery & Cecelia is pretty much Jane Austen plus magic, which means it’s awesome. I love Regency-era period pieces, and the wonderful thing is that magic just fits so well in that setting for some reason. The inclusion of magic didn’t seem awkward at all, and I absolutely loved how the first two pages read like a normal Edwardian England setting, and then that mention of “The Royal College of Wizards” was just casually slipped in. Just lovely.

It’s pretty obvious who Kate and Cecelia end up with, but the best part, for me, was watching those relationships progress as the book went along. I go into pretty much rhapsodic bliss with these sorts of romances, and like I mentioned before, I could not stop grinning throughout the entire book. There may have been some giggling, too, both at the romances and because this book is quite funny overall.

This book gave me a ton of Pride & Prejudice vibes, which is probably why I loved it so much. Honestly, the best part of the whole thing was finishing this book and then realizing that there was another one. Onward to the further adventures of Kate, Cecelia, and their significant others!

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Cecy, I do think it is unfair. People in novels are fainting all the time, and I never can, no matter how badly I need to. Instead, I stared at him for what seemed like years, with the stupidest expression on my face, I’m sure, because I felt stupid. For I couldn’t imagine why he should say such an extraordinary thing. Finally I realized he was waiting for me to say something.
I said, “I can’t imagine why you should say such an extraordinary thing.”

Overall Review:

Gosh, I loved this book. I giggled and grinned my way through it and had a blast the whole time. I love Jane Austen and I love fantasy, and this book was the perfect mix of both.

You can buy this here: Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

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)