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.
As I read Thirteenth Child I was no longer curled up on my couch, wrapped in the warmth of a long, favored hoodie, my dog nearby and a cup of tea steaming beside me. I was somewhere else entirely, gone west to a place where steam dragons materialized out of clouds, a world where magic was second nature, and a time when humanity carried the need to expand their territory as brightly as a torch that just caught its spark. Patricia Wrede deftly created the world in which Eff and her family lived; it was as familiar as our own American west once was, and still so vastly different. The transporting quality of the writing quickly becomes evident, but there’s more to appreciate as you continue to read.
‘More’ includes Eff. Eff is the type of protagonist that provokes the kind of sympathy that the reader can’t help but push back at; there is no doubt that Eff is strong enough to handle herself, even when she’s doubtful of that fact, and so really there’s no place for sympathy when reading about her trials. There’s a whole lot of empathy wrapped up in reading about her, too, but again, strength is intrinsic to her character, and the reader understands that without it ever being spoken plainly. Eff’s voice is honest and thoughtful; it’s easy to tag along with her through 344 pages.*
Another thing to know is that Thirteenth Child is a quiet book; it’s not a roller coaster ride of climaxes and resolutions. You won’t find stand-offs at high noon or much of any physical action in these pages, either. Because of that Thirteenth Child may not be the fastest read, but, like Eff, it’s steady, and a lot of time is covered over the course of the novel. Certainly enough to reinforce the characterization and world-building.
I loved learning about Wrede’s brand of Western magic. In this case, the frontier’s melting pot revolves more around magical theories than it does ethnicities. And the differences inherent in each type of magic – Aphrikan, Avrupan, and Hijer-Cathayan – breeds biases and prejudices. A lot of the tension in the novel stems from superstition and intolerance. And how is it handled? With polite but steely tones that snap with temper and brook no argument.
Thirteenth Child was a wonderful read. If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the first chapter here, but I’m going to finish this post up with a passage I enjoyed:
“What about steam dragons, then?”
“I don’t rightly know.” Wash shook his head. “But I’ll tell you this: About twelve years back I took a notion to see for myself those big Rocky Mountains you hear tell of sometimes. It was a hair-raising journey, and I don’t propose to carry on about it now, but I got to a place where I could see the mountains rising up off the horizon every time I topped a hill. They had a sort of pull on me. Every evening I’d tell myself I’d come far enough, and every morning I’d tell myself that it wouldn’t hurt to go on just one more day.
“One morning I was packing up my saddlebags and having that same conversation with myself, when something made me look west. Suddenly I saw a full-grown steam dragon burst up off the side of the mountain. It tore through the sky like it was running from Judgement Day, and passed overhead without even pausing to consider what a tasty meal my horse and I would make.”
I can’t wait to see what’s next in the Frontier Magic series!
(*Based on the Advanced Reader’s Copy, as is the excerpt. Thirteenth Child will be available April 15th, though according to Amazon it’s already in stock.)
Once Upon a Time III Challenge
1. The Shadow Queen
2. Vampirates: Black Heart
3. The Manual of Detection
4. Thirteenth Child