Anna's Reviews > The Far West

The Far West by Patricia C. Wrede
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's review
Jun 10, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: young-adult, fantasy, childrens, reviewed
Read from July 31 to August 01, 2012

This was a very satisfying finale to Eff's trilogy, and if Patricia Wrede ever wants to write a fourth book she has left herself space to do so. That makes me happy because I (and my 10 year old nephew) *love* this series. I read it in one stayed-up-too-late-to-finish-my-book evening and I thoroughly enjoyed myself while I was doing so. I do have some concerns with the world building in this series, and they did nag at me extra hard during this book especially, but the story of Eff growing up and finding a place in her frontier world was lovely anyway. This is the story of Eff's early 20s, as a young woman with a job, home responsibilities and a couple of suitors but it's still entirely suitable for children. There's one passage where Eff's elder sisters embarrass her beyond belief by bringing up the issue of birth control since (view spoiler) Personally, I'm entirely happy with the idea of kids reading about responsible family planning and the steamiest this book gets is a bit of very chaste hand holding but YMMV so I thought I'd mention it. Wrede does an excellent job of bringing the frontier mores of Eff's world to life and I really felt for her struggles with her domineering sisters who seem disappointed in their own lives and who don't see why she should be excused her share of the household work just because she has a job as a research assistant. Eventually Eff (view spoiler) This provides lots of scope for Eff's many talents as a researcher and as a magician and while she stays humble, she also seems to shed that debilitating self-doubt she has always carried with her, legacy of her "unlucky 13th child" status. It's all very satisfying.

What isn't entirely satisfying is Wrede's vision of the world she has built. In short, she's written the American West without any Native Americans in it. It's so ironic that Wrede has taken so much care to write such an inclusive, multicultural story of the settling of the west that has three main magical cultures (they map on to our Europe, Africa & China), she addresses slavery and there's even a couple of characters who I'm fairly sure are meant to be lesbian (devoted friends and colleagues that we're assured would never be interested being courted) and yet she's fallen at such an obvious point, and one that does real damage to her world building. Having a place richly capable of sustaining life that doesn't have any humans living in it goes totally against everything we know about of species. Homo Sapiens are an amazingly resilient, adaptive, aggressive and downright sneaky species and we get everywhere, and all evidence suggests that we have been doing this for many tens of thousands of years.

The idea that there aren't any people beyond a few recent settlers living outside the Great Barrier Spell is just absurd. Yes it's dangerous out there but that never stopped us anywhere else in the world and even in this book Wrede admits that humanity is the most dangerous species in the west. All through the book I kept hoping that they'd find a few petroglyphs or something to indicate previous human inhabitants of the plains (view spoiler). I can understand that maybe Wrede didn't want to extensively dwell on the Native American side of the western frontier in her story, but if so, why not just relegate it to a few sentences the way she treats slavery which is part of her world but not the focus of her story? Writing Native Americans out of the story entirely is massively problematic because in our world that settlement was only made possible by their genocide so to turn around and write a charming frontier tale of a frontier where they simply don't exist is like rubbing a whole salt mine in the wound. The fact that the Chinese (OK, the Cathay) are honored and extremely rare guests in Wrede's 19th Century Columbia is also a bit unexamined, but I can see it sitting a bit better as Eff explains at one point that the gold rush is just starting so presumably the extreme anti-Chinese racism that followed hasn't really got started up yet?

So yes, the world building is a bit of a mess and he series would have been better if it was sorted out a bit but I've still given the book five stars, though I probably wouldn't have if it had been written by an unknown author rather than the great Patricia Wrede. She's given three generations of my family a lot of pleasure over the years, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. There is an awful lot to love in this book. I just wish the world was more coherent.
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Reading Progress

07/31/2012 page 8
2.12% "I love these books (and so does my 10 year old nephew) but every time I pick a new one up I can't help but hope that this time there will be some trace of earlier human inhabitants found beyond the great barrier. The fact that this place seems fully capable of supporting life, but apparently hasn't been able to support human life until just now is hard for me to swallow,"
07/31/2012 page 9
2.38% "(part 2 cause apparently I need that) because it doesn't accord with what I know about Homo Sapiens. Say what you like about our species but we are plenty adaptable, and I can't think of a place on earth capable of supporting life that we haven't adapted to. We're sneaky that way."
07/31/2012 page 243
64.29% "I really don't want to put this book down so I can go to sleep."
07/31/2012 page 284
75.13% "Love triangle!"
07/31/2012 page 384
100.0% "Totally worth staying up late to finish!"

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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kvon I guess I just don't get the upset over the lack of Native Americans. I always figured there were nastier critters in Alaska and the Pacific coast, and the nomads who crossed the landbridge got eaten, or had some magical reasons to not attempt travel. I don't understand why every aspect of actual American history has to be repeated, when the civil war and women's schooling are so different. I found her world building to be quite internally consistent.

Anna I think the core of the upset is the genocide issue: There are two radically different sides to the story of the white settlement of the American west, on one side its a story of frontiers, bravery, setting out into the unknown, and on the other it's a story of genocide, the end of the world, and the destruction of entire civilizations. I think a lot of native Americans find it to be the ultimate slap in the face to be written out of the story entirely.

And as for the internal consistency issue in her world as in ours humans are the most dangerous predator. She says that explicitly in this book. So the high incidence of mega-fauna in Columbia may well have kept numbers down but it shouldn't have eliminated humanity.

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