Nan's Reviews > Thirteenth Child

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
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's review
Jun 28, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: family-fiction, fantasy, young-adult
Read from June 26 to 27, 2010

While this book was a fun fantasy Bildungsroman, I'm not certain that I liked it well enough to continue the series.

I've been reading Wrede's books for years; my first was Daughter of Witches way back in the 80s. I have all of the Lyra novels and the Regency Magic series. In addition to these books, Wrede is well known online for her Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions she created for writers. Over the years, I've come to trust her writing--and especially her worldbuilding.

Which is where I stumble a bit with this book. It's about a family with fourteen children that move to a frontier town when the father takes a job as a professor of magic at the local land grant university. Eff (short for Francine) is the 13th child of the title. Thirteenth children are considered unlucky, evil, and dangerous by many, and the family moves out west in part to protect Eff from those that hold such beliefs. This novels follows Eff from her childhood through maturity as she seeks to find her place in this environment.

This frontier is a dangerous place; a magic barrier separates East from West, and the West is filled with magical and other dangerous creatures. Without the protection of a magician, settlers on the other side of the wall have little chance to survive.

My problem with this book is a complaint that I've heard from others and chose to overlook until after I read the title as well. This is an Alternate Earth fantasy, and it is set in "Columbia," the continent we know as North America. However, when the explorers arrived in this New World, they found it empty of people. Native Americans (or, rather, Native Columbians), don't exist. I'm not certain why Wrede chose to write them out of her world. Perhaps she was trying to avoid the us v. them racism of the American frontier. Perhaps she didn't want to create a fourth major magic system. As an alternate reality, she can do whatever she wants with the world, but clearing the land of any prior inhabitants erases the possibility for cross cultural contact as well as several other plots.

I do think I'll read book two--after it, hopefully I'll be better able to defend or admire Wrede's choices.

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