REVIEW: Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

15. Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
Publication: Scholastic Paperbacks (June 1, 2010), ebook, 352pp / ISBN 0545033454
Genre: YA fantasy, Alternative History

Rating: Borrow it
Read: January 31, 2011

Source: Bought

Summary from Amazon:

Eff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he’s supposed to possess amazing talent — and she’s supposed to bring only bad things to her family and her town. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that separates settlers from the beasts of the wild.

Review

As much as I liked Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles series, I like Thirteenth Child even more. I love the world it’s set in, I love the story, the writing is fantastic and it was so much fun to read! (Then came the sick feeling, but we’ll talk more about that later.)

One of my favorite genres is alternative histories, or alternative Earths. I love seeing how things would be if there was legit magic in the world, or if cyborgs conquered the Romans, etc. Thirteenth Child is like Laura Ingalls Wilder meets Diana Wynne Jones. Yay!

I also really like it when fantasy authors play around with convention. That seventh son of a seventh son thing? SO overdone, and I’m actually kind of bored with it. That’s why I was so happy when PCW didn’t focus on the super special, super magical double-seven kid, and instead focused on the (supposedly) unspecial, unlucky thirteenth kid. It was also interesting how there was very obviously gender conventions and “roles” in place– the sort you’d expect there to be in a book set vaguely in America’s frontier age, where women stayed at home and cooked and men went out and did things, but PCW didn’t really make a big deal about it.

Sometimes with these alt. history books you get the female characters acting obviously modern, with an independent rebellious streak a mile wide and lots of talk about “why can’t women do what they want.” None of the female characters in Thirteenth Child did that, but then I think women are slightly less locked into their “proper roles” as maybe women would have been in the real frontier age. There’s a few women who are college professors, and Eff ends up wanting to do a rather manly job and no-one says anything about it. So. Yeah.

I liked Eff, though I don’t think she’s quite as strong a person yet as, say, Cimorene was. But she’s getting there! It did get kind of annoying when Eff was STILL going on and on about how she was going to turn evil one day, even when she was an adult and, y’know, still not evil.

There was an explanation in the story (by another character) that habit and fear kind of stick with a person, though, so even though Eff intellectually knew she wasn’t evil– it was still hard for her to accept that, emotionally. (Which is why she had so many problems with her magic.) I understood her difficulties, but I also kind of wanted her to just come out and be all “Bam! I’m awesome! I’m just as awesome as my double-seven brother is!” Maybe she’ll do that in the next book, who knows.

Unfortunately– and here comes the part that, after reading a lot more about it, made me feel sick– the reason I’m rating this “borrow” instead of “buy” is because of the WTF race fail in here. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t notice this when I was reading the book (white privilege going on like woah) but I’m sure as hell noticing now.

Where the hell are the American Indians? Did they get eaten by dragons? Wiped out by Columbus and his ilk? Are they all living on the other side of the mountains? What? And more importantly: why was it okay to just completely disregard a huge fucking chunk of American AND human history? Hello?

There are bits of the worldbuilding that are brilliant, and then there’s this shit. Disappointing isn’t even the right word.

Basically: Love the characters, love the idea, but WOAH wtf with the missing whole sections of humanity.
If you like: Diana Wynn Jones, Cherie Priest, or Neil Gaiman’s books, you’ll like Thirteenth Child. On the other hand…

Everybody knows that a seventh son is lucky. Things come a little easier to him, all his life long: love and money and fine weather and the unexpected turn that brings good fortune from bad circumstances. A lot of seventh sons go for magicians, because if there’s one sort of work where luck is more useful than any other, it’s making magic.

And everybody knows that the seventh son of a seventh son is a natural-born magician. A double-seven doesn’t even need schooling to start working spells, though the magic comes on faster and safer if he gets some. When he’s grown and come into his power for true and all, he can even do the Major Spells on his own, the ones that can call up a storm or quiet one, move the earth or still it, anger the ocean or calm it to glassy smoothness. People are real nice to a double-seventh son.

Nobody seems to think much about all the other sons, or the daughters. There’s nearly always daughters, because hardly anybody has seven sons right in a row, boom, like that. Sometimes there are so many daughters that people give up trying for seven sons. After all, there’s plenty enough work in raising eleven or twelve childings, and a thirteenth child — son or daughter — is unlucky. So everybody says. (Chapter 1)

And

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Other reviews: Jenny’s Books | Bookshelves of Doom | Charlotte’s Library

6 thoughts on “REVIEW: Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede”

    1. Just a bit, yes! And by “a bit” I really mean “the more I think about this the more horrible it becomes.” I can only hope this whole thing has prompted PCW to maybe fix it in the next book, somehow.

    1. I’m really ashamed that I didn’t notice myself until someone else pointed it out to me. Or, less importantly (maybe?), how the book doesn’t WORK if there was no movement of peoples across the Bering Strait in Ye Olden Times, because of, like, EVERYTHING THAT EVER HAPPENED. The worldbuilding/alt history? Is almost completely unworkable if you think about it for more than five minutes.

      If you’ve got the time, you should definitely read through the posts linked to in this post here, plus as many of the comments as you can. SO much stuff was brought up that I hadn’t realized before (both in relation to this book and the fantasy genre in general) that I’m going to be thinking about stuff for a long while.

  1. I like the Enchanted Forest chronicles like, WAY better than this; but I also read them when I was a little girl, over and over and over and over again a thousand times. So I guess that makes a difference.

    1. I like the EFC books but I think my experience was SLIGHTLY tainted by listening to the audiobooks instead of just reading the text. The audiobooks were good but there were a few weird voices for characters (and voices kept changing between books) and it was just kind of frustrating.

      Plus I have a real hankering for there to be more variety in fantasy! Not necessarily US frontier stuff like here, but, like, fantasy books with a different setting than transplanted British/European? I’m a little bit tired of the dragons/castles/knights/etc kind of thing, even if they’re done in an interesting/unusual way like in EFC.

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