Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Across the Great Barrier

by Patricia C. Wrede
Start Date: 12 August 2011
End Date: 12 August 2011
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 1st 2011

Summary (from Goodreads):
Eff is an unlucky thirteenth child - her twin brother, Lan, is a powerful seventh son of a seventh son. And yet, Eff is the one who saved the day for the settlements west of the Great Barrier. Her unique ways of doing magic and seeing the world, and her fascination with the magical creatures and land in the Great Plains push Eff to work toward joining an expedition heading west. But things are changing on the frontier.

There are new professors of magic for Eff and Lan to learn to work with. There's tension between William and his father. And there are new threats on the frontier and at home. To help, Eff must travel beyond the Barrier, and come to terms with her magical abilities—and those of her brother, to stop the newest threat encroaching on the settlers.

With wit, magic, and a touch of good pioneer sense, Patricia C. Wrede weaves a fantastic tale of the very wild west.

This book is the sequel to Thirteenth Child. Click for my review of Thirteenth Child.

I will mark spoilers for Thirteenth Child in green.
I will mark spoilers for Across the Great Barrier in blue.

My Review:
For the most part, my feelings about Across the Great Barrier are the same as those for Thirteenth Child. Across the Great Barrier felt very much like a middle book in a trilogy (which it is). It didn't have anything radically new or story-changing in terms of plot, and the story picked up right after Thirteenth Child ended and continued it for the next few years.

Like Thirteenth Child, Across the Great Barrier is very character-driven, as is somewhat to be expected. All of the characters have wonderful stories of their own, and they all seem so real. I'd happily read books focused on any one of them. There are many of the same characters from Thirteenth Child, and a handful of new ones as well. Eff becomes much more independent, and is finding her place in the world (all that character development in Thirteenth Child paid off). She continues to grow and develop as the book goes on, and it is wonderful to see her growing into her true character. I wish I could have read more about Lan and William, but they're both away at school, which is a little disappointing, since I'm still rooting for Eff and William to get together. Maybe in the next book. Even though we don't get to see much of Lan, there are a few great chapters where Eff and her family go to visit him at school (not saying why; it's a big spoiler) and it's easy to see how much he's changed and gain so much insight into his character.

An interesting theme present in both Thirteenth Child and Across the Great Barrier was the development of the Rationalists. For those of you who haven't yet read either books, the Rationalists are a group of people who have decided to stop using all magic because they view magic as a crutch. This is a problem in the eyes of many non-Rationalists because magic is needed for settlement protection spells and the like  to keep out the magical and dangerous wildlife. (Spoilers for Thirteenth Child until the next paragraph.) In Thirteenth Child, the Rationalists apply for a settlement of their own, and eventually receive one. Eff's sister, Rennie, elopes with Brant Wilson, a dashing young Rationalist, and goes to live in their settlement. Eff visits Brant and Rennie once in Thirteenth Child and once in Across the Great Barrier, and it's fascinating to see how the Rationalist society changes between the two books. In Across the Great Barrier, they've become much more extreme, even going so far as to advocate bringing in mirror bugs to wipe out all traces of magic in the settlement (Spoiler for Across the Great Barrier, highlight to view). I loved looking at how Rennie changed throughout the books because of her magical upbringing and the fact that she came to the settlement for Brant rather than for the ideals of Rationalism. She didn't choose to become a rationalist, and the life shapes her as much as being a thirteenth child shaped Eff. I can't wait to find out how her story continues in the next book.

Like in Thirteenth Child, it seemed like the big "problem" (the Medusas in this case) (spoiler for Across the Great Barrier, highlight to view) was not the point of the story. The point was the characters, all of which were wonderfully written. Tthe plot followed much of the same pattern as that of Thirteenth Child: Eff starts out in town learning things, she goes out west, she finds some big problem, and she figures out how to solve the problem because of all the things she's learned throughout the book. But since the plot is mostly a vehicle for the character development, I didn't mind the formulaic-ness off it at all. 

Overall thoughts: Across the Great Barrier is an extension of the narrative in Thirteenth Child. I liked reading them together because they read like one continuous story. All the characters are so real, it's amazing. I definitely want to read the third book in the trilogy, The Far West, which is apparently scheduled for 2013. I will be rereading the first two at that time, because I think its more valuable to read them together than apart. I really enjoyed Across the Great Barrier, and found it very unique, not at all like other books coming out now.

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