Patricia C. Wrede
Preface 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*.
Anyway, 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?
*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?