Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Again with a non-disappointing second book! The Thirteenth Child was the first in Patricia C. Wrede's new Frontier Magic trilogy, which takes place in the 19th century as the United States of Columbia expands past the Great Barrier River and into the frontier. The river and the spells that guard it protect the eastern united States from the wildlife—both natural and magical—that populate the west, but pioneers are finding ways to survive in such a dangerous land.
Across the Great Barrier follows the same heroine from the first book, Eff Rothmer, as she begins to find her place in the world. The first book followed her growing up in a western college town, learning that being the thirteenth child didn't mean she was cursed, and figuring out how to listen to herself in a world where she's overshadowed by her large family and accomplished twin brother. In this book, we get a new set of challenges as Eff learns more about her own brand of magic and gets more opportunities to spend time on the frontier.
A lot of the charm of these books is in their portrayal of this alternate frontier. Something I noticed this time, though, is that the success of world building here isn't just centered around the magical alternate reality that the author created. Rather, the historical sense of expansion, the newness, eagerness, and change that infect everyone around Eff are really the most fun part of the book. The tightly woven alternate reality is a bonus on top of this.
These are not books in which major things happen. Minor incidents are related not only because they are important in the greater story, but because they build a picture of Eff's life. The realism of this approach and the opportunity to follow Eff through her days—whether hunting magical animals beyond the Great Barrier or sharpening her skills on basic housekeeping spells—are really what made me love this book.
And I do love it. It reads very much like an extension of the first one, almost seamlessly. But it's got its own arc, its own flavor. Eff isn't afraid anymore—the first book was about her fear, but this book is about her discovery of herself, and learning. Watching Eff—and the people around her—change through time is another thing that Wrede does a lot better than other authors. I really can't wait to read more.
Also, I'd really like to see an ice dragon someday.
From a distance, of course.