Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: Thirteenth Child

by Patricia C. Wrede
Start Date: 9 August 2011
End Date: 12 August 2011
Paperback, 344 pages
Published April 15th 2009

Summary (from Goodreads):
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.

With wit and wonder, Patricia Wrede creates an alternate history of westward expansion that will delight fans of both J. K. Rowling and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

My Review:
I first read Thirteenth Child a year ago, last August. I remembered the main plot points when I picked it up again, but it was good to go back and reread it. I think I even enjoyed it more the second time around.

Thirteenth Child is not a plot-driven novel so much as a character-driven novel. The entire story revolves around Eff and how she develops and changes because of what happens to her over the years. In fact, the big "problem" (the mirror bugs) (spoiler, highlight to view) doesn't show up until more than halfway through the book, and Eff needs all the character development of the first half and the skills she's acquired in order to solve the problem. Some readers might take some issue with this, as it's easy to say not much actually "happens" but when one looks at the novel as more of a character study than a story driven by the need to know what happened next, it's a lot easier to appreciate and enjoy.

As this is a character-driven novel, the depth in all of the characters was great. Eff especially felt so real, and I could easily imagine her as a real person (and a friend of mine). It was so clear to see how all the people around Eff affected her worldview and created the challenges she much overcome to grow as a person. Wrede gave all of her characters great depth, and they all came alive for me because of it. I could really understand all of the characters, not just Eff, which made this book special, as the supporting characters often don't get as much depth as the main character.

The alternate history aspect was one of my favorite parts of Thirteenth Child. As mentioned in the summary, Thirteenth Child takes place in an alternate version of American - or rather, Columbian, as it is called - history. I enjoyed it even more than I had the last time I read Thirteenth Child, since I've now taken American History. Wrede does a very clever job of creating a history that is recognizable, but ultimately unique to Eff's magical world.

(Spoilers of what doesn't happen in the next paragraph, but no spoilers of what does happen.)
On a side note, I was both disappointed with and appreciated that Thirteenth Child was not a love story. I spent the entire book waiting for Eff and William to fall in love, but they never did. If I remember correctly, I spent the whole time waiting for them to get together the last time I read it too. I like that Wrede kept Thirteenth Child different from all the other books out there by not having them fall in love, and I get that it would have drastically changed Eff's character - very important in a book so grounded in character - but it would have been very sweet. I hope Eff and William do fall in love in future books.

Overall thoughts: Thirteenth Child was a wonderful middle-grade novel taking place in an alternate American history and chock-full of magic, but expect a character study rather than an intense plot.


Small Review said...

I'm glad I read your review before reading the book. Now I know what to expect (character driven, no romance) and I think I'll appreciate it more. I would have been sitting there the whole time hoping they would get together :P

Pica said...

I did sit there for much of the book hoping they'd get together. I was sure I remembered that they would, but it turns out I just remembered hoping they would. I've read a few negative reviews of Thirteenth Child, and I think it's because the readers were expecting an adventure story in the magical wild west and got something completely different, but if you're not expecting plot to take center stage, it is a wonderful book. I hope you enjoy it.


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