Thirteenth Child

Reviewer: Katherine Ray

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Published: 2009

Reviewed: 2009-05-14

Publisher: Scholastic Press

I just sat down and polished off Wrede's "Thirteenth Child," that is I
sat down and read it in about 4 hours straight. It's pretty good. I
turned to the back cover and they had a blurb from Tamora Pierce
saying "I plunged in and couldn't put it down until I finished. It's
a fascinating adventure in an America where an 'unlucky' thirteenth
child finds her own magic on a frontier where the dragons and the
mammoths play." And I said, "drat, that's what I was going to say."

I'll just have to be less succinct. The best part about this book is
the world building. I really like this alternate America she's made.
There are magical animals and non-magical animals. The Ice Age didn't
kill off the mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. The Civil War
happened earlier. The main character worries, "I couldn't remember
the Columbian Presidents past the first five --- George Washignton,
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Eduard Baier, and Herman Augustus
Morton." Benjamin Franklin was the seventh son of a seventh son and
put up a great magical barrier in what I suspect is the Mississippi
River. Lewis and Clark couldn't fight their way through the wooly
mammoths and steam dragons, and so disappeared, and America never made
it to the Pacific Ocean.

The story is about the twin sister of a seventh son of a seventh son.
I suspect the premise of the book is similar to the Alvin Maker books,
but I can't be sure, as I haven't read them. They certainly share the
"seventh son of a seventh son is special" and the "American frontier,
with magic!" aspects, but Wrede focuses on the seventh daughter. She
also leaves out the Native Americans, unless that's what she means by
"Hijero-Cathayan," but looking up Cathay says it's a standard
alternate name for China, so no go there. I do wonder what happened
to all the Native Americans.

She does do a really nice job writing about family matters from the
point of view of the 13th child of someone who had six older brothers
and and unknown number of older sisters. That is, the whole family is
HUGE, and there are feuds between various members.

She also does a nice job of illustrating the effects of someone being
told, "you're number 13, you're going to be EVIL" and "you're a double
seventh son, omigod you're so special!!!"

So, yes, good book, lovely world-building, good characters, as much
romance as you would expect from a book from Scholastic (i.e. young
adult, i.e. the main characters don't quite realize what they're
headed for eventually (though a bunch of secondary characters get
married: she's the youngest child, it's the late 1800's, what did you
expect?)), and a nice big climactic scene near the very end with
minimal denouement which I think is typical in Wrede's books.