Thirteenth Child is a YA fantasy by Patricia C. Wrede.
Numbers have great significance in Eff's frontier world of magic, an alternate version of our own American frontier days. That's why her twin brother Lan is admired and exalted as the seventh son of a seventh son - his power is stronger and more natural than anyone else's, not to mention rare. This is also why Eff is feared and terrorized by her cousins and neighbors - she is a thirteenth child. Also rare, and long believed to be evil and the bringer of bad luck and bad intentions to all around her. At as young as five, Eff is blamed for everything bad that happens in her uncle's life and hears how she never should have been allowed to live this long and doom everyone around her.
But Eff's parents don't hold with such talk, and when Eff's father is offered a professor job at a magic school he takes it to give his family a fresh start - despite the school being perilously close to the Great Barrier, a magical divide that keeps the more dangerous of the magical beasts of the wilderness (such as mammoths and steam dragons) away from the struggling settlers.
Lan and Eff grow up, learning basic magic in the day school by an enigmatic teacher that tries to introduce different types and theories of magic, though most find the idea unpopular. But as Eff gets older and learns more, she can't help but wonder if the destiny her uncle was certain she would bring is coming true - or if there was any way she could be good.
She gets a chance to find out...
I love the idea of frontier times having a whiff of fantasy. Thirteenth Child had a definite fairy-tale vibe, taking us on the journey of Eff at a very young age all the way to eighteen. The setting is magnetic, an alternate version of our American frontier - where magic is commonplace and the dangers of crops dying are as real as the threat of a steam dragon passing the Great Barrier and wiping out an entire town.
There is a sense of adventure and family in Thirteenth Child that I really liked - it was unique and patient in its storytelling. Patricia C. Wrede slows down the usual pace of novels these days and lets you know Eff through and through. One of the most fascinating things about Thirteenth Child is how Wrede allows the reader to see the psychological effects of being called evil all of your life - giving a depth and meaning to the book.
From early on, I felt very connected to Eff. She comes to feel like a friend, you feel like you know her voice so well as she narrates the story so honestly. There is a suspense to the mentioned dangers of the other side of the Great Barrier, as well as a curiosity.
Thirteenth Child is an excellent coming-of-age tale that feels like the genesis of a superb heroine. There's even a bit of female empowerment going on here, but without any preaching. I found it to be very, very interesting and worth the read. And the end leaves you ready to see where Eff will go next - and even, in my eyes, a potential romance. Happily, the story doesn't end here - the second book in what is called Frontier Magic will be out this summer - Across the Great Barrier!
Perhaps some bibliophiles may find Thirteenth Child too slow, but in my opinion it was lovely and rich and understated. I am intrigued.