Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Patricia Wrede's "Thirteenth Child" (book review)

I have to admit, I have been very lax lately in my reading of books for younger teens.  I'm so keen on the 15-18 older teen books that I've been reading them almost exclusively over the last few months.  So recently, when I was at the library with no particular books in mind, I decided to peruse the books aimed at the 12-14 crowd.  And that is where I picked up Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child.

I love the cover!
Thirteenth Child is difficult to classify in terms of its genre.  It could be called a fantasy book, or magical realism, or historical fiction, or perhaps most aptly, alternative historical fiction.  Thirteenth Child (and the series that follows it) is set in the early days of the American Wild West.  Except the frontier is populated with a wild variety of magical and non-magical creatures, as well as some ice-age holdovers like mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers.  And the creatures are not the only ones who possess magical abilities, humans possess these abilities as well to varying degrees. 

Wrede does an excellent job of keeping enough historical accuracy to make the time period recognizable, but at the same time integrating these interesting, magical aspects of the storyline. The story's heroine, Eff, is considered by some to be an unfortunate, cursed thirteenth child.  The story follows Eff as she leaves her home community at a very young age, and strives to leave behind the stigma of her birth order and prove herself to not only be a good person, but one who is safe for others to be around.  The story covers a fairly large stretch of time, starting with Eff at age five and ending at age 18.   While I found some of the progression through time to be a bit lurching, this doesn't damage the overall quality of the story. 

I very much enjoyed Wrede's descriptions of the people, settlements and creatures in this re-imagined America.  There is just the right amount of history and magic in this tale to make it approachable and appealing to younger teens.  And with Eff's brother Lan and his friend William filling in substantial roles, and getting into several serious misadventures, this work has appeal to teen boys as well as girls.  Overall, Thirteenth Child is an engaging story, and I will likely give the sequels a try as well.

Happy Reading.  :)

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