Review posted December 6, 2011.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2011. 339 pages.
I like Patricia C. Wrede's writing so much, I pre-ordered a copy of this book, and was delighted when it showed up on my doorstep. This book is the second book in the Frontier Magic series, continuing in the fascinating world the author created in Thirteenth Child.
These books are set in an alternate reality Old West, where the world has magic. The West of "Columbia" was never settled by humans, because ferocious magical creatures live there, including saber cats and dragons and mammoths and other dangerous creatures.
I like the alternate reality Patricia C. Wrede has built, because she has lots of things that are different. So many alternate reality books assume just a few differences, and that history would go the same as it did. But why would that happen? I like the way she has lots of little differences, like different names for things. Children are called childings. Europe is Avrupa. America is Columbia. Of course, there are also huge differences, like the existence of magical creatures.
Another thing I like about this series is that it's one series that has a family like the one I came from -- thirteen kids! There aren't very many out there. Now, to be honest, by this time Eff's brothers and sisters are all grown (which is realistic), so it doesn't feel like a big family story, but I still have a soft spot for a book with a family like mine, even if the main character is a lot more analogous to my youngest sister, and has an experience nothing like those of us at the top of the birth order.
This book is not very dramatic, but it's simply a good story. I hope the series continues a long time. As in Thirteenth Child, the narrator does a lot of telling about events, rather than dramatizing scenes, so a lot of time passes. But it's all very interesting, since it's about this fascinating world. Eff is figuring out how her own magic works, while also solving some mysteries across the Great Barrier.
The Great Barrier is a magical barrier set up in the Mississippi River that protects the country from the fearsome magical creatures that live out West. However, there are settlements that have been allowed beyond the Great Barrier, and in this book, Eff gets to go with a research party to catalog the plant and animal life. They find some startlingly realistic statue fragments, and there is no mark of any tool. Is something turning creatures into stone?
This book still gives the feeling that there's lots more to be told. Eff's twin, Lan, and their friend William go off to college in the East and don't show up a lot in this book. Eff's still finding her niche and ways to use her talents and interest in magical animals. By the end of the book, she feels like a friend, and I very much want to hear more about her.