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.