The Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede

Thirteenth ChildEver since Eff was born, she’s been treated with fear, mistrust, and sometimes outright loathing -and all this from members of her own family.  Because Eff is a thirteenth child, she is considered unlucky at best, and many believe that she is destined for a life of badness with no way to escape.  According to the same gossiping aunts and uncles, Eff’s twin brother has a very different destiny.  Lan is the seventh son of a seventh son, bringing luck to those around him and making his magic tremendously powerful.

When the treatment of their two youngest children becomes extreme, Eff’s mom and dad decide to move the family out to Mill City for a new start.  Mill City is the biggest city on the frontier, and it is just miles away from the Great Barrier.  Once you pass the Great Barrier that separates the east and the west, the territory changes.  Pretty drastically.  We’re talking Mammoths and Steam Dragons and Sphinxes drastic.  The Barrier keeps this wild menagerie of menacing magical creatures out on the frontier.  But many people cross the frontier to create new settlements and try to tame the land, protected by their settlement magicians.  And while the settlers expect trouble from these large and threatening magical creatures, the thing that causes the most trouble is something they have all overlooked.

Much of the book is concerned with the process of learning magic, and how that process is different for Eff and Lan.  Which is a treat for the reader, because the magical system is seriously cool.  There are three traditional systems of magic – Avrupean, Hijero-Cathayan, and Aphrikan – and each has its own methods and quirks.  Since Eff starts out young and is learning more about how to use magic, the reader gets to come along on that journey.

It is not only the magic system that is exceptionally crafted in Wrede’s book – all of her worldbuilding is top-notch.  I feel like I’ve been seeing more of these books that combine an alternate history of our world with some kind of fantasy element, and this is the best of the bunch so far.   Wrede’s combination of the wild west frontier and the wild animals of fantasy is inspired, and both the creatures and the magic fit perfectly into the world she creates. 

And while the world and the magic are a delight to read, it is Eff who drew me into this book.  Her relatives treated her with suspicion and malice for so long that she has internalized their distrust of her magic.  She is convinced that it is only a matter of time before she turns bad, and so she pulls away from friendships and from her own magical power.  The reader can see that Eff’s struggle with herself is creating more problems than it is solving, and Wrede is slowly bringing Eff along to that same realization. 

The Thirteenth Child builds a great foundation for a series.   The reader gets a sense of the trouble that could be ahead for Lan and Eff – much of it caused by their different upbringings and how superstition has developed their characters.  The seeds for some intense family conflict have been sown, and the backdrop for that potential conflict will certainly stand up to many more books.  I’ll be looking forward to the next in this series.

Patricia Wrede on the web.

The Thirteenth Child on the web.

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19 thoughts on “The Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede

  1. I reviewed this book recently, so it was nice to get another perspective. Actually, I agree with everything you said, especially about the strength of Eff as a character. Great start to a fresh series–I’m looking forward to the next book, too!

  2. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: April 25, 2009 at Semicolon

  3. I saw this today at my local book store. I enjoyed the bio of it but was unsure if I would read so I didn’t get it but it’s now on my TBR list. I have so many books on my TBR list,lol. Anyways thanks for the great review.

  4. I saw this book in the teen section at a book store and was immediatly attreacted to the title.
    the best book I’ve read so far! And ive read a lot of books. Check it out i’ts worth it!

  5. I am amiddle school language arts teacher looking for a little more info on this book. I want a book with some fairy tale elements to use with my 6th graders. But what I really want to know about this book is whether there is any inappropriate material (cursing or intimacy scenes) in the book that my students’ parents would object to. If not, then this sounds like the perfect book to order a class set of for my students! Thanks for any feedback!

  6. i love these books my friend thinks they are scary. I just love to read these books. They are awesome i hope she makes more.

  7. this book is a mind stopper. when you start to read it you cant stop. and it literaly took up my life for a day and a half becasue i couldnt stop. i got to the end and saID I NEED number 2

  8. i read this book and it is totally great, i mean i can really relate to it.us if you haven’t read it you need to!

  9. I own this book and I am looking for the second book to the series, so I was wondering if it came out yet or not?

  10. Laney – It’s definitely not out yet, and there’s no publication date listed on Patricia Wrede’s web site. It is a planned trilogy, so we should see more of these books someday!

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