Hello, random people on the internet. It’s been a while since I last wrote something for you, but before you get upset, I have my reasons.

The big reason was that I decided, for the first time ever, to take part in the April session of Camp NaNoWriMo. For the curious, it’s basically the same as NaNoWriMo, just not in November, and with the added social aspect of being assigned to a “cabin” with other participants. I’ve done the summer sessions before (they do another one in June or July), but this is the first time I’ve done a spring session. It was a bit hard, mostly because I’ve had other things regularly crop up to take up time, but I managed to meet my goal.

As for what I wrote? I was finishing up a project I’ve been working on for about three years now. The elevator pitch is that it’s The Three Musketeers, as told from the perspective of Comte de Rochefort, Cardinal Richelieu’s right-hand man. Why? Well, let’s just say I have issues with The Three Musketeers and leave it at that. I’m still not quite done, but I’m close to finishing, so I’m still working on it.

The Great Job Hunt also continues, but I continue nonetheless.

Instead, let’s talk about an awesome book. Today, I’m going to tell you why you should read The Thirteenth Child, the first book of Patricia C. Wrede’s Frontier Magic series.

Blurb:

#1 NYT bestselling author Pat Wrede returns to Scholastic with an amazing new trilogy about the use of magic in the wild, wild west. 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 only bad things to her family and her town. 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 separates settlers from the beasts of the wild. With wit and wonder, Patricia Wrede creates an alternate history of westward expansion that will delight fans of both J. K. Rowling and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Now, if you read fantasy as a child or young adult (which, if you’re reading this, you probably did), you might be familiar with the name Patricia C. Wrede. She’s the author of several Children’s and YA fantasy series, including the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, the Magic and Malice series, and the Jr. Novelizations of the Star Wars prequels.

But back to The Thirteenth Child. As mentioned in the blurb, this book (along with its sequels, Across the Great Barrier and The Far West ) follow Eff Rothmer, the eponymous thirteenth child, as she lives and comes of age on the frontier of the United States of Columbia. It’s basically Little House on the Prairie, but with magic.

There’s a few other differences as well. The most obvious ones are in the names of certain places. The Istanbul not Constantinople trope is in full effect: America (both North and South) is Columbia; Europe is Avrupa; Africa is Aphrika, etc. But there are a few more substantial differences. The biggest is that the Columbian continents are full of dangerous wildlife, both magical and mundane – settlements are threatened by creatures like mammoths and saber-cats, as well as magical creatures like “swarming weasels” and dragons of various types.

And this leads to another huge difference between this world and the real world: at the time the series takes place (beginning around 1835 and ending around 1850) the United States is much smaller, with the western boarder being the Mammoth River (their name for the Mississippi River). Why? Because a while back, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin (both double-seventh sons, like Eff’s brother Lan) set up the Great Barrier spell, to keep the nastier animals out of the more settled regions.

(Side note for the historically-inclined: this also looks to have changed history in other ways as well, namely there being a conflict called the ‘Secession War’ [this world’s version of the American Civil War] happening around 1830, presumably because it was harder to put off the issue of slavery. It’s little touches like that that I really enjoy.)

But, people being people, everything east of the Great Barrier is getting pretty full, so there are already settlements being established in the regions beyond the Great Barrier, and subsequently encountering a lot of the strange wildlife beyond, which leads to demand for newer, better protections, as well as scientific examinations of these creatures, all of which ultimately leads to the establishment of a university in Mill City, near the northern end of the Great Barrier. And it’s that university that offers Eff’s father, a professor of magic, a position.

What I really love about this book and the sequels is how very personal they are. They’re all told directly from Eff’‘s perspective, so we get to see the world through her eyes, and understand what what she’s thinking and feeling. (Though it does also mean having some periods of frustration when Eff seems to be deliberately oblivious to things that are pretty obvious to the reader).

But more than that, these books are very slice-of-life. Yes, Eff is involved in events that have a major impact on the world around her, but the bulk of the narratives are spent with Eff focusing on things that crop up in the lives of her and her family. Problems like, say, one of her older sisters deciding to up and elope with a guy from an anti-magic organization. Or when her twin brother gets involved in a magical accident while off at university. Or just the general stress of being a thirteenth child, and thus being considered cursed, if not outright evil, and so trying to conceal that fact after moving to Mill City.

Okay, that might make this series sound like it’s all very serious, but it’s not. At least, it wasn’t for me. For me, it was very light, easy reading; the literary equivalent of comfort food.

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Comment

  1. Miss_Morgan on 4 May 2017, 11:05 said:

    While it’s a good story—well-written, with strong characters and an immersive world—it’s worth noting that Wrede strayed into unfortunate implications territory by choosing to erase Native Americans entirely. The link contains Debbie Reese’s (Nambe Pueblo) perspective on that choice, as well as Wrede’s reasoning for leaving out Native Americans. I don’t doubt Wrede meant well in her choice (she says that she did it to avoid falling into stereotypes) but aside from Reese’s perspective (which is well worth reading) I think leaving Native Americans out was a huge missed opportunity. Not just in terms of inclusion and representation, but she could have given us some incredibly badass cultures that had evolved to coexist with dire wolves and Columbian sphinxes. Which would have been awesome.

  2. Apep on 4 May 2017, 15:57 said:

    I can absolutely see why someone might take issue with the non-existence of Native Americans. And yeah, it would have been cool to see a society that had adapted and developed ways to deal with all the weird creatures living past the Great Barrier.

    But at the same time, I can see how it’d be a hard to do well. It’d be all too easy to ruin it, either by fetishizing them, or making them into something from a really old western. And I have to wonder, which is worse – bad representation, or no representation at all?

    Besides, the books already get a bit close to the Magical Negro trope already.

    And to go a bit Thermian (the aliens from Galaxy Quest), given the general lethality of these creatures, and the trouble folks tend to have defending themselves from them, it’s entirely possible that any ancestors of what would have been the Native Americans got killed and eaten before they could adapt or develop any defenses.

  3. The Smith of Lie on 10 May 2017, 03:49 said:

    And to go a bit Thermian (the aliens from Galaxy Quest), given the general lethality of these creatures, and the trouble folks tend to have defending themselves from them, it’s entirely possible that any ancestors of what would have been the Native Americans got killed and eaten before they could adapt or develop any defenses.

    I have no stance on inclusion of Native Americans in the book (and backlog way too large to get to even read it in reasonable time frame), but this argument has a fatal flaw.

    There were humans in Australia before it was colonized. If people could survive Australia they surely could survive Columbia. I mean sure, some magical beasties might be a problem, like dragons or sphinxes and what not. But could any be as dangerous as drop bears? Exactly!

  4. Apep on 10 May 2017, 12:40 said:

    There were humans in Australia before it was colonized. If people could survive Australia they surely could survive Columbia. I mean sure, some magical beasties might be a problem, like dragons or sphinxes and what not. But could any be as dangerous as drop bears? Exactly!

    Oh, ha ha.

    But in all seriousness, all three books include creatures living in the Far West that are incredibly dangerous to settlers, even with their (relatively advanced) mid-19th century technology, mostly because they have an immunity to magic. The first book has “mirror bugs,” which literally eat magic. The second book has “medusa lizards,” which can turn living things to stone. The third has “invisible foxes” and a new type of dragon. I imagine that anyone used to living past the Great Barrier would find Australia almost pleasant by comparison.

    And again, to go Thermian, it’s possible that there are Native Americans living west of the Rocky Mountains, because no one’s ever gone past them and come back. The only reason I didn’t mention that was because there are several characters in the third book from Cathay (China), and I’m not sure whether they traveled east or west to reach Columbia.