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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  81 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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Growing Up on the Frontier July 10 2011
By Arthur W. Jordin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Thirteenth Child (2009) is the first Fantasy novel in the Frontier Magic series. It is set in the nineteenth century in Columbia of the New World. A hundred years before, the United States had become independent from Avrupta.

The Columbians use magic from Avrupa, Aphrika and Ashia. Magicians are essential for settlements west of the Mammoth River. The wildlife in the west is deadly without magical safeguards.

In this novel, Francine Rothmer is the seventh daughter in her family and the thirteenth child. Eff is the twin of Lan.

Lan Rothmer is the seventh son of a seventh son. He is Eff's twin.

Daniel Rothmer is married to Sara and is the father of Eff, Lan and twelve other children. He is a Professor of Magical Theory.

Maryann Ochiba is a teacher in the day school in Mill City. She teaches systems of magic.

Anthony Graham is the other professor of magic in the college. He has an invalid wife and a son William, who is about the same age as Eff and Lan.

In this story, Eff is treated badly by an uncle and her cousins because she is the thirteenth child of her family. Her mother and father care for her just like the other kids. Naturally, Lan is given more care and schooling since he is a double-seven.

Uncle Earn believes that Eff has cursed his house and brings in the police to take her away. Her father refutes the whole idea and the policeman doesn't take it seriously. But Daniel calls a family council afterward to announce that he was taking a position at the land-grant college in the North Plains territory.

Only Daniel, Sara and the younger kids are going to Mill City. The rest of the family will be staying behind with their families, schools and jobs. But everybody -- except Earn and his wife -- drop by to talk about the frontier.

The family household goods are packed and shipped to Mill City. After a month of packing, the house is mostly empty. The aunts and uncles are invited to a big party. The next morning, the travelers board a train headed west.

The trip is exciting and boring, with long stretches of fields and then prairie and occasional towns. The gaps between towns became longer as they traveled west. Finally they reach Mill City on the east bank of the Mammoth River.

The town is much larger than the other towns along the way. Yet it is also much newer. The homes and businesses are constructed from newly cut lumber.

The dean of the college meets them at the station. Miss Ochiba is also there. Sara asks Ochiba to notify her of the start date and time for the day school.

The cottage has provided them with a good size house. Every child gets a separate room. The school had intended to use it for classrooms, so Daniel and Professor have classes in the front parlor and sitting room for a while.

Eff likes living at the college. She especially enjoys classes with Miss Ochiba. Eff eventually gets extra studies in Aphrikan magic from her.

Meanwhile, towns on the other side of the Great Barrier are having problems. One town loses its magician to illness and is overrun by wild beasts. Then mysterious grubs start appearing.

This tale takes Daniel, Graham and another professor across the Mammoth River to investigate the difficulties. The Settlement Office wants Lan to accompany them, but Sara puts a stop to that. Then an older sister gets married and most of the family go east to attend the wedding.

Eff worries constantly about being the thirteenth child. Miss Ochiba relieves some of the anxiety by pointing out that other magic systems do not view numbers in the same way. But Eff still worries.

Nonetheless, Eff helps more than she harms. The next installment in this series is Across the Great Barrier.

Highly recommended for Wrede fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of wild frontiers, magical systems, and determined young ladies. Read and enjoy!

-Arthur W. Jordin
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