Thirteeth Child: A 2015 Reading Challenge review

For the first book of the 2015 Reading Challenge, I chose Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede. A friend loaned the book to me back while I was still pregnant with the twins and I’d put off reading it, so it qualifies as my “Book at the bottom of your to-read list.”

Thirteenth Child follows the childhood of Eff, a thirteenth child (surprise!) growing up on the frontier of an alternate universe America where magic is commonplace. Eff’s twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son, which makes him a natural-born, powerful magician. Eff, however, is supposed to be incredibly unlucky and is assured that someday she will ‘go bad’. The book follows her life for thirteen years, from the time she’s 5 until she’s 18. She grows in her magic and continually struggles with her fear of ‘going bad’ someday.

The world in Thirteenth Child is fun, since it is both familiar and weird at the same time. Famous historical figures were tossed in, such as Lewis and Clark (who did not have a successful exploration in this world), Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin (also a double 7 son). The frontier teams with dangerous wildlife, like bison, wooly rhinoceros, mammoths, steam dragons, and spectral bears. Colleges, such as the one where Eff’s father works, “taught people useful skills like agriculture and engineering and magic along with things like Latin and law.”

The book is told from Eff’s perspective. I didn’t much care for the way the time line flowed. Thirteen years is a lot to cram into the first 200 pages, though every scene does have a purpose towards the conclusion. Time slows down after that and the final 1/3 of the book covers only a month or so. I got a kick out of the climax, since I was expecting a “bigger” foe for Eff to face at the end. Since it caught me off guard, I had to applaud that.

Overall, Eff is a cute character with a witty way of looking at things and I appreciate her struggles to do the right thing, though her perspective of doing good because she was afraid of going bad was a bit heartbreaking. I appreciated her parents’ perspective on Eff’s birth number, for her mother says, “I can see plain enough that an angel straight from heaven itself would grow up crooked if she was watched and chivvied and told every morning and every night that she was sure to turn evil.” They are a positive force in Eff’s life.

I’ll probably be picking up the other books in the Frontier Magic series later. If you’re a fan of YA fantasy, this is a book you should add to your to-read list.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy for my “book that became a movie.”

What did you read this week?

It’s not too late to jump in on the 2015 Reading Challenge! Check out the list here!

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