Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic Book)
by Patricia C. Wrede
Review by Gayle Surrette
Scholastic Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780545033428
Date: 15 April 2009 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Eff and Lan Rothmer are twins. Lan is the seventh son of a seventh son and expected to do great things in his life. Eff on the other hand is just another girl child, but she's also the thirteenth child and thus she was expected to be evil and cause misery and chaos all her life. She was five when her Uncle Earn brought the police to arrest her and put her away for the safety of the community because her hair ribbon had been found on his property so obviously she had cursed his family. It was shortly thereafter that her parents moved the family to Mill City in the North Plains Territory where her father would teach magic at the land grant college. No would need know that she was a thirteenth child in their new town.
It was a new start for Eff. She knew that. But she's had five year plus the time to pack and move to be told day after day that she is evil. She's been bullied and plagued by the other children for her accident of birth order. She's been left out of events and training because she's not wanted -- simply for being a thirteenth child. It's hard not to think that the behavior of these people could very well be why a thirteenth child does go bad and maybe they all deserve all the bad that happens to them. The reader also will find themselves wishing that Eff will grow and show them all that they're wrong.
Told from Eff's point of view, we know that she's an acute observer of what goes on around her and has a way of getting to the heart of problems, going straight to the center of knotty problems. Even at five, she has thought about what people said about her and internalized most of it. She's curious and worried. Eff doesn't want to be evil and she watches herself and second guesses all her actions in order to curb her tendency to going to the dark side.
This is Eff's story of her life -- childhood to young adult -- on a very dangerous frontier. The world is richly imagined. It's the United States, but with vast differences -- the geology is relatively the same but there is magic and the government is quite different. The frontier can only be settled if wizards will go out with each group and set wards to help them survive the animals in the wild which include steam dragons, mammoths, saber-tooths, as well as the more normal creatures one would expect. Many settlements fail. There's a group who want to settle the frontier who refuse to use magic and their story touches, in part, on that of the Rothmer family.
Except for the magic, the story reminded me very much of many other frontier and prairie stories I'd read as a child and young adult. While Mill City has many of the city amenities, life is hard and not necessarily easy even when you have magic to help you. In school Eff learns from her magic instructor, Miss Ochiba that other systems of magic also exist and many don't have the same interpretation of thirteenth children.
Every experience comes naturally from the environment, from the people around them, and from their own beliefs and values. While there is no roller-coaster ride of adventure and excitement, this book is filled with wonder and awe as a new world and new ideas open for Eff and she comes into her own power as a magician, a twin of a double sevenths, and a strong young woman.