Across the Great Barrier is the sequel to Patricia C. Wrede's YA prairie times fantasy Thirteenth Child.
If you haven't read Thirteenth Child yet, I'd recommend heavily that you avoid this review. Why spoil yourself? Go read Thirteenth Child, and then you can come back! :)
Otherwise, read on...
Eff is finally getting over her fear of being a thirteenth child and therefore inherently evil. She's finally beginning to accept that all that superstition is just that - and she doesn't have to hurt anybody. But that still doesn't change the fact that she doesn't like attention. Attention used to be cruel. Even though now it is full of praise and wonder after she helped to rid the lands of the mirror bugs that were killing are the crops and making it impossible to live in the settlements, she'd still rather do without it. After all, her twin brother Lan (the seventh son of a seventh son, and therefore a powerful magician) is getting a bit jealous.
But despite her desire to stay home and help her parents out while working on the simple, everyday magic that still gives her trouble - instead of going to a college to refine her potentially strong magical abilities, she's asked to travel past the Barrier Spell - something people don't do often. On the other side of the Barrier there are powerful magical beasts that they have little to no knowledge of, except for the fact that people often don't return. But they're trying to settle the area, slowly but surely, and Eff's abilities and smarts make her candidate to help out.
To make sure they all return home, Eff will have to work on controlling her magic and keeping them safe. But is that possible?
This is the wild west in an alternative universe, pretty much. Any of you who've already read Thirteenth Child (and you should be the only ones reading this!) know this. I'm still intrigued by Wrede's ability to make it seem almost normal for these people in Little House on the Prairie times to be practicing household spells and protective spells everyday like it's nothing.
Eff is a great main character that I grew to appreciate and love in Thirteenth Child. Her experiences and character development made her multilayered and extremely likable. This is a continuation of her story, but certainly not the end (it doesn't seem to be anyway)!
Now, I'm going to be honest - Across the Great Barrier did start off quite slow for me. But I knew I would need to adjust to that slow-burn tone that Thirteenth Child gave us. It's very subtle, very quiet, but interesting. An increase in the sense of danger (once she steps across the Barrier) quickens the pace, and a determination to stop and smell the flowers allows you to soak in the environment and character details that Wrede provides. She's not in a rush. And in order to enjoy Across the Great Barrier, you need to not be in a rush either.
There's an organic, naturalistic quality to the magic, as well to the entire story. Patience is required for a delicately plotted reward. Across the Great Barrier has a family drama element tied into the hardworking, polite prairie days in this magical alternative history. It's a truly fascinating story that revels in being told slowly, like honey being poured out of the bottle. It's sweet, inspiring, and lovely - but not for everybody.
Even I had a difficult time with the pacing of Across the Great Barrier - and yet the optimistic, curious tone of it still leads me to want to read more. I still want more of Eff and her continued growth. There's something so interesting and enjoyable about it - you just have to accept that it is a quiet story, and not expect it to be more. The plot twists are unique and surprising, and in the end it is worth that patience. That's how I see it. Tell me what you think!