Thirteenth Child and Across the Great Barrier

Patricia C. Wrede

Book Cover: Thirteenth ChildPreface and warning: I have been a HUGE Patricia C. Wrede fan ever since my best friend gave me Talking to Dragons for my birthday when I was twelve. At the time, I’d never read anything like it: adventure, fantasy, humor, and light romance all together in a book with a narrating hero that a preteen girl can empathize with and a heroine that she can admire. Wrede is particularly clever with creating characters and narratives that subvert traditional fantasy tropes: clumsy knights, ditsy princesses, wizards that melt with soapy water, and dragons that demand complicated etiquette, I believe to date that I have read all of Wrede’s books, even though they tend to be quite young, “young readers” rather than “young adult.” (Upon a quick consultation with amazon, there is actually one of her books I have not read – a ‘junior novelization’ of The Phantom Menace, and I think I can be excused for not only not reading it, but pretending it simply doesn’t exist.)

She also manages to blend the fantasy genre and period-piece genre better than almost any author I’ve read. I won’t totally divert this review, but Sorcery & Cecilia is just such a wonderful fantasy story set in the Regency period, and is just such a perfect blend of historical romance and fantasy that it seems so easily done, but it clearly isn’t*.

Book Cover: Across The Great BarrierAnyway, the Frontier Magic series is set in an alternative universe that is obviously similar to our pioneer days in the United States, but with a world that developed with magic. The main character and narrator is a young girl who is born the thirteenth child in her family, which is considered extremely unlucky, to the point where relatives insinuate she probably should have been “taken care of” at birth. Within the first book, Thirteenth Child, she grows from about 5 years old to 18, growing up, going to school, and learning magic, and then the second book continues for the next couple of years, where she takes on her first magical job as a young adult. The third book, The Far West, sounds like it starts off where the second book ends.

Both books are a bit more atmosphere-driven, and less crisis-driven, so it has a leisurely pace that can take a little adjustment as a reader of rip-roaring adventure stories. However, it is such a charming book in every way, from the magical elements to just the frontier elements—it reads a bit like a fantasy version of Little House on the Prairie. And, seriously, what could be better than that?

—Anna

*Aside rant: how is this so difficult? Seriously, one would think the two would go hand in hand—vampires and all sorts of other magical creatures are immortal, after all. The audience that reads fantasy books has a pretty big overlap with the audience that reads historical novels and romances, I believe. How is almost every period-piece fantasy book I’ve read just terrible?

7 comments on “Thirteenth Child and Across the Great Barrier

  1. Kinsey says:

    THE NATIVE STAR! That’s the name of the non-YA western/fantasy/zombie book I couldn’t remember. I wasn’t in love, but it’s a pretty good period fantasy book.

    • Anna says:

      Hahaha – less than a week! Was it bothering you this whole time? I might check it out, considering my love for all of those: westerns, fantasy, and zombies.

  2. Melissa Poole says:

    See! This is why you guys can never stop this blog. I LOVED first book in this series and had no idea others had been released. Perfect holiday weekend reading–thanks Anna! (This is the best reason to be an English teacher–excellent cover for reading YA books.)

    • Anna says:

      I know! I didn’t even realize the second one was out until I ran across it at the library. Rebecca is scheduled to post a review of the third one today, so that is pending.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I hadn’t thought about it really but wow, there really are so very many really bad historical fantasy books out there. I think I’ll blame it on the assumption that most fantasy authors don’t want to have to deal with historical research and most historical authors don’t want to mess up their research with magic.

    However, one good example of historical fantasy: the Temeraire series. No magic, just dragons, but so awesome.

    • Anna says:

      Hmm, that’s an interesting thought; it wouldn’t surprise me at all if historical authors don’t want to mess up their research. However, I’m not willing to give the fantasy writers any credit; it doesn’t take much research at all – I’ve read enough regency romance novels that I could write a better regency fantasy novel than most of the ones I’ve read (which is saying a whole lot because I’m not much of a writer). I’m still very much sulking over Gail Carriger’s Soulless, which could have been so good, and was so very bad.

      • Rebecca says:

        I’ve read enough regency romance novels that I could write a better regency fantasy novel than most of the ones I’ve read

        Proof! I want proof! You must now write a regency fantasy novel! Oh yes!

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