Let’s just start by saying I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Patricia Wrede. Even though her series can be vastly different from each other, they are all just fantastic. I particularly recommend The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, featuring a princess who offers herself to the service of dragon because she just can’t handle being as vapid as her sisters, and the Cecelia and Kate Novels featuring the letters two regency era cousins send back and forth to each other as they piece together a dastardly plot and try to stop it.
Anywho, this book review is actually about Frontier Magic, a series set in an alternate history just after the secession war in Northern Columbia. The world is filled with dangerous creatures, both magical and non-magical and only the mysterious magic of the great barrier keeps the pioneers safe. Many who cross it to explore or create settlements never come back.
In The Thirteenth Child, we meet Eff. In a world where Seventh Sons are powerful and the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is nearly legendary, it is really pretty awful to be a twin to a double seventh, especially if you are the older twin and a seventh daughter, for that makes you an unlucky Thirteenth Child. This is the story of Eff, a child so unlucky that her parents had to move the whole family from their safe existence to the frontier when she was only five. In this story, we learn that maybe superstition is only what you believe it to be and if you just look at something differently then maybe the unlucky can become lucky. Eff grows in confidence, and does amazing things even proving that she has abilities her brother can only dream of, but she still does not shake off her feelings of inferiority.
I won’t review Across the Great Barrier and The Far West in great detail, as the continue the life of Eff as she grows into herself and becomes a young woman. I will say that what I love about this series is its slow pace. Very little happens in the way of great excitement, or rather exciting things happen, but they are rarely the focal point of the story. Instead, we get to see a brow-beaten five year old turn into a lovely, strong young woman because one person has faith in her at a time and she works hard to prove the faith warranted. There is no defining moment or major climax where she suddenly realizes that she is worthwhile. Instead, she is constantly surprised when people give her their faith. She is the ultimate example of imposter syndrome and in the end she has faith in herself and that is lovely.
Because the book is much more about the character and much less about the action, it is probably more suited for a mature and introspective reader. I would totally hand it to my current 10yo, but my 8yo probably won’t be ready for it for another five years. The Amazon reviews agree with me, ranging from love of the book to complaints about it being ‘boring.’
Mature Content/Spoiler Alert: The books are pretty pristine and true to their era except for reference to a bit of math that explains an elopement and an unchecked ego that ends in an accidental death and a lot of guilt.