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Thirteenth Child [Paperback]

Patricia Wrede
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Prairie magic June 6 2009
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
If Diana Wynne-Jones and Laura Ingalls Wilder had ever collaborated on a book, it might have turned out something like "Thirteenth Child."

Specifically, Patricia C Wrede's latest book is a unique fantasy set in an alternate world where dragons, mammoths and stray patches of magic stream across the United States (here called "Columbia"). While Wrede doesn't fully flesh out her cast or her alternate history, "Thirteenth Child" is a solid little merge of wagons-and-cabins frontier stories and exceptional magic.

Lan was born a seventh son of a seventh son, a natural for magic. But his sister Eff was born a thirteenth child, which popular superstition says will inevitably be evil and bring bad luck -- and her relatives take every chance to torment her about it.

Fortunately their parents decide to move all the children still living with them out west, to a small university. Over the years, Eff has problems other than her status as a "thirteenth" -- the Rationalists, who avoid all magic; the steam dragons that fly overhead; and some nasty encounters with fellow students. And Eff starts learning from the kindly Miss Ochiba, who introduces her to Aphrikan and Hijero-Cathayan magic.

But Eff's family is thrown into chaos when one of her sisters causes a massive scandal. And when a strange plague of grubs and insects (which once destroyed an entire settler town) threaten to destroy all the settlements in the west, Eff accompanies a research team to the Rationalist town. But not only are the insects all over the place, they seem to be impossible to eradicate with magic. Can a thirteenth child hope to save the settlements?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too Aug. 9 2009
Format:Hardcover
Eff was born the thirteenth child. She grew up hearing stories about how the "Thirteenth Child" is supposed to have great talent but bring great danger and despair to everyone around her.

Her twin, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son, or a double-seven, and is supposed to have great magical talent, in a good way, and luck that makes everyone in awe of him.

This story tells of their growing up, from Eff's point of view, and the challenges they face.

This story started off really well. I loved reading about Eff, Lan, and their magic. I liked reading about how they grew up and how much magic was involved in their lives. But then towards the end it started talking about these bugs that sucked up the magic, and that was the whole plot of the story at the end.

It kind of turned me off to the story, but overall it was well-written and something different in the YA fantasy world.

Reviewed by: Andrea
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  84 reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seventh son and thirteenth child May 21 2009
By E. A Solinas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If Diana Wynne-Jones and Laura Ingalls Wilder had ever collaborated on a book, it might have turned out something like "Thirteenth Child."

Specifically, Patricia C Wrede's latest book is a unique fantasy set in an alternate world where dragons, mammoths and stray patches of magic stream across the United States (here called "Columbia"). While Wrede doesn't fully flesh out her cast or her alternate history, "Thirteenth Child" is a solid little merge of wagons-and-cabins frontier stories and exceptional magic.

Lan was born a seventh son of a seventh son, a natural for magic. But his sister Eff was born a thirteenth child, which popular superstition says will inevitably be evil and bring bad luck -- and her relatives take every chance to torment her about it.

Fortunately their parents decide to move all the children still living with them out west, to a small university. Over the years, Eff has problems other than her status as a "thirteenth" -- the Rationalists, who avoid all magic; the steam dragons that fly overhead; and some nasty encounters with fellow students. And Eff starts learning from the kindly Miss Ochiba, who introduces her to Aphrikan and Hijero-Cathayan magic.

But Eff's family is thrown into chaos when one of her sisters causes a massive scandal. And when a strange plague of grubs and insects (which once destroyed an entire settler town) threaten to destroy all the settlements in the west, Eff accompanies a research team to the Rationalist town. But not only are the insects all over the place, they seem to be impossible to eradicate with magic. Can a thirteenth child hope to save the settlements?

The biggest problem with "Thirteenth Child" is that Patricia C Wrede's imagination is bigger than her book -- she creates an epic alternate history full of strange creatures and different spins on American history, and a sprawling magically-gifted clan with fourteen kids and countless other relatives. But she ends up not quite having enough time to fully develop either her history or her fictional family -- especially the latter, since I had trouble keeping track of all Eff's siblings.

Thankfully, that problem doesn't sink "Thirteenth Child," mainly because Wrede is talented enough to keep a sprawling frontier tale intertwined with Eff's personal story. This book is full of solid steady writing and period anecdotes, often with the problems (like rheumatic fever) and experiences (spelling bees, dances, small schools) that settlers would have had. Her style that sounds both earthy ("the grass dried out hard and sharp as pins") and exquisite ("its silver snake body trailing steam...").

And despite being patchy, her vision of the western frontier is a colourful one -- a Great Barrier that tries to keep back weird creatures like sabertoothed tigers, steam dragons, mammoths and woolly rhinos. Not to mention the creepy grubs and mirror bugs. At the same time she explores Eff's formative years right up to adulthood, as well as her family's personal woes and problems.

And Wrede clearly gave plenty of thought to her magical world, whether it's the different brands of magic or the possible effects that NOT using magic might have on a person. It would be interesting to see where she takes this next, since the ending is left wide open for a sequel.

Though she mopes too much about her thirteenhood, Eff comes across as a likable underdog who slowly gains confidence and strength throughout the story, while her buddy (and potential love interest) William starts off rather prickly but soon becomes a sensible counterpoint to Eff. And Lan is an excellent blend of overconfidence mingled with protectiveness -- this guy would be totally unbearable if he weren't so devoted to his sister.

"Thirteenth Child" has a few flaws, but the story itself is a solid Little-House-on-the-Prairie tale set in a magical world. And it leaves you wondering what Eff might do next.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Controversial? March 21 2010
By Madigan McGillicuddy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Set in an alternate historical, magical America, young Eff is an unlucky thirteenth child. Her twin brother Lan, on the other hand, is the seventh son of a seventh son -- destined for greatness. She and most of her immediate family move away from Helvan Shores for a fresh start on the magical frontier after her extended family refuse to stop harassing her for her supposed bad luck.

I had heard a lot about the controversy surrounding Wrede's alternative history frontier fantasy before I read it, so I settled down to read this book with some trepidation, even though I dearly love Patricia Wrede. Because her new Frontier Magic series takes place in an alternate American history, one where the United States never had a Native American population, many readers and critics were troubled. It seems deeply insensitive to eradicate a group of people who have already been through so much. And yet, reading the book, didn't feel as overwhelmingly uncomfortable as I would have thought. I'm also a fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly, a science-fiction/Wild West type show, and I have to admit, the lack of Native Americans on that show never bothered me. It was unclear to me, reading Wrede's book, if slavery had ever existed in her alternate history. While Aphrikan people (and their magic) seem to be a rare minority, no further backstory is given.

I liked the idea of frontierspeople struggling to hold their own against magical creatures; mammoths, dragons, enchanted beetles. Magic, in this world, is commonplace and everyday. The Wild West twang to the character's speech added depth to the story.

Eff's continual low self-esteem became a bit wearing as the story went on. She is just as worried at age eighteen about inadvertently causing bad luck to befall her family and loved ones as she was at age five, when her maliciously bad-tempered extended family went so far as to outright suggest that her parents do away with her. Some of the terms like Mammoth River (for the Mississippi) or Columbia (for America) being thrown together with place names such as Philadelphia threw me a bit. I wish that this had been set in a completely new world altogether, kind of like Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword.

I was fascinated with the Rationalists, Puritan-like settlers who eschew magic entirely. I was really rooting for them, especially after seeing how callously many of the magicians in the story treated Eff. Eff's older sister Rennie elopes with one of the Rationalists and her encampment is one of the only ones resistant to a particularly nasty strain of magical locust-like mirror bugs. So, I was disappointed when Eff finally has the chance to visit them and Rennie breaks down, admitting that life without magic is very, very hard -- so much so, that she's resorted to sneaking in a spell or two to make her hardscrabble life a bit easier.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book, and I'll definitely put it in the hands of young fantasy readers who enjoyed Wrede's Sorcery and Cecilia series, or the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I'm curious how this book would fare as book club material; there are so many different themes at play to provide fodder for discussion.
40 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magical Frontier April 7 2009
By D. Hurford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Francis (nicknamed Eff) was born the 13th of 14 children. While her twin brother Lan (#14) is lauded for his potential as a natural magician (he is the 7th son of a 7th son), Eff is tormented and told that she'll turn evil. After her Uncle Earn tries to get her arrested for supposedly cursing his house when she was 4 years old, Eff's father decides to accept a University position (Magic instructor) out west to get both children away from the harmful influence on both twins; falsely glorifying one child, while falsely belittling the other.

Eff's mother puts it best: "I can see plain enough that an angel straight from heaven itself would grow up crooked if she was watched and chivvied and told every morning and every night that she was sure to turn evil, and I can see equally plain that fussing and fawning over a child that hasn't even learned his numbers yet, as if he were a prince of power and wisdom, will only grow him into a swell-headed, stuck-up scarecrow of a man, who like as not will never know good advice when he hears it, nor think to ask for it when he needs it."

Eff's family moves to the North Plains Territory east of the Great Barrier. The Great Barrier is a magical barrier that keeps creatures like Mammoths, woolly rhinoceri, swarming weasels and spectral bears on the west side of the barrier.

The oldest of Eff's siblings stay in the east (either to marry or go to University) and for the first few years in the new territory, no one mentions that Lan is the 7th son of a 7th son or that Eff is a 13th child.

Eff's first 4 years of life made an indelible impression and she is convinced that someday she will go bad. It preys on her conscience and finally she confesses to her magical teacher, Miss Ochiba. Miss Ochiba teaches the students to look at ordinary things in multiple ways and points out that Eff is also a 7th daughter, the first born of twins, and many other things besides a 13th child.

When strange creatures start to overwhelm settlers west of the Great Barrier, a 13th child may be the only one to see the solution.

>>>>>>
I've been anticipating this book since I first heard Ms. Wrede give a reading last August and "The Thirteenth Child" doesn't disappoint. Ms. Wrede's world-building is complete with an alternate history (Lewis and Clark never made it back from their expedition), and has that sense of adventure that the frontiersmen had when they explored the west. From different theories of magic to people who don't believe in using magic at all, the world Eff lives in has a depth and complexity worth exploring.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great ride Dec 20 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
How the west was won - with magic. I loved this book. We had here a complciated character who had a central problem to get over, and struggled with it. The first person perspective was also executed well, without any slips into other heads or out of character chepters. Eff's point of view remained fresh trhougout, and I for one could not wait to see her to concur her fears and blossom into the power that she obviously possessed.

The only down side is how long I'll have to wait for book two.
93 of 135 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Superficially entertaining, but seriously flawed April 5 2009
By Professor J - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've always liked fantasy novels in "American" settings, but I haven't read a satisfying one since Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker books. This middle-grade novel evokes much of what makes the Card novels interesting, including a similar obsession with big families and birth order, and "uniquely American" magic. Unfortunately it fails to do what Card does successfully, which is acknowledge/incorporate the real complexity of American history and culture.

The story focuses on Eff, the thirteenth child of the title, who happens to be the twin sister of Lan, a seventh son of a seventh son. By the standards of the (Europeanish) magical system their family uses, Lan is destined to do great things and Eff is destined to "go bad". Because their extended family insists upon treating Lan like a king and Eff like a walking time bomb, the children's parents decide to move them to another town closer to the frontier, where Lan might not grow up with a swelled head, and Eff can grow up with a fresh start.

I liked the way this book focused on family dynamics; a lot of the "drama" in the story comes from just the ordinary interactions of a large family full of headstrong people. That's what kept me reading. I also liked Eff herself, who wasn't too perfect or anachronistically "modern", and yet also wasn't stupid or passive. She struck me very much as a "real" and normal character, coping with some decidedly abnormal stuff. She tackles those problems with pluck and cleverness.

Unfortunately the characters outside of the family weren't as well-realized (which is why I deducted a star). I guess this is inevitable when the family in question consists of twenty-some people... not much room to focus on the other folks in town, even though many of those people were fascinating. Eff seemed to have no friends but William, the son of the town magic snob -- I wanted to know a little more about him. I wanted to know lots more about Miss Ochiba, who seemed to have no purpose in the story other than to act as Eff's mentor (and as the only black woman in the story, she edges dangerously close to Magical Negro territory). I was also put off by the way the people who feared Eff's status as a thirteenth child were depicted as simply mean and bigoted. I wanted to know if they'd known a bad thirteenth child before, or if there was some history they were reacting to which might clarify their behavior. Were Caligula or Jack the Ripper thirteenth children, for example? Instead their objections were never explained, and these characters ended up being just one-dimensional villains. Even in a story aimed at kids, I expect more depth than this -- and after years of Harry Potter, Scott Westerfeld's books, etc., I think most kids will too.

I also deducted a star because of the worldbuilding, though I waffled on this. That's because I enjoyed a lot of it, such as the explanation of the world's three main magic systems (one corresponding to Europe, one corresponding to Asia, and one corresponding to Africa, though they all have different names here). And I loved the idea of a fantasy-alternate America populated with dragons and mammoths (!) and other "magical" wildlife. But I was actively offended by the apparent erasure of indigenous people from this America -- there's nothing on the continent but forests and animals, making for a spooky sort of Manifest Destiny message as the mostly-European settlers make their way across it. The author appears to have considered what this absence would do to her alternate America -- for example, all place-names based on Native naming have been changed (e.g. the Mississippi is now the "Mammoth river"). But this actually adds to the problem, because it suggests Native Americans contributed nothing to early American culture but names. Also, though there are a few black people present among the settlers and Asians are said to exist somewhere, there doesn't seem to have been a system of slavery (or I missed it) or labor exploitation in this world. So I can't help wondering how this alternate America has been settled so effectively. Slavery was evil, yes, but it's also an inescapable part of American history because of the desperate shortage of labor in the country's early years. There simply weren't enough Europeans to do it all, grow at such a breakneck pace, and still feed themselves -- so who did the work here? It's not just that. This world has a railroad system, but we see no Chinese people, so who laid the tracks? For that matter, where are the poor white people, struggling to eat when (at one point in the book) there's a string of crop failures? If they're mentioned, I didn't see them.

I think this is what bugs me most. The book's theme is that America is unique because of its diverse mix of cultures, yet the book fails to actually *depict* much of that.

The children and teens who this book is aimed at might not pick up on this, or they might be sufficiently dazzled by dragons!!! over the Mississippi!!! which I will admit almost distracted me. But I think a lot of kids are pretty savvy these days, and a lot of them *will* notice. I think it might leave the same bad taste in their mouths that it did me, ruining my enjoyment of an otherwise decent story. Because of that I cannot recommend this book.
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