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Andrea K Höst

Australian writer of science fiction and fantasy.

Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, #1)

Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, #1) - Patricia C. Wrede A book which brought a mix of good and bad reactions. Set in an alternate America called Columbia during the "Go West!" era, except this is a world of magic, and Columbia is a continent seething with magical wildlife, from woolly rhinoceroses to steam dragons. Add to this Eff, the thirteenth child of a Seventh Son, sister to a double-seventh who is expected to be as powerful and lucky as the thirteenth is said (by some) to be unlucky and prone to wickedness.The story followed the unlucky thirteenth from when she is five to eighteen. This gives the book a structure which is somewhat on the level of "life highlights", from the first horrible and unfair bullying, to the family's move far west, meeting new people, a couple of family dramas, and the gradual development of Eff's powers and attitude toward herself.Eff is at times a frustrating person to follow. She is so terribly traumatised by her early encounters with "anti-thirteen" prejudice that she almost erases herself as a person as well as a mage. Looking back over the story, I think of nothing more than a mouse who watches and tries to do no harm, but is slowly encouraged out of hiding by a wise teacher and a good friend, until finally she has a chance to shine, and to see herself more clearly. But, though at times I wished Eff would DO instead of experience, on the whole I really liked this process and so I thoroughly enjoyed that story, and the progress to the problem which Eff is instrumental in solving.There are two things, however, which bugged me constantly reading this book: race and gender roles.The settlers are primarily Europeans, with an admixture of people of African heritage - descendents of slaves (though slavery at this point has been abolished). I didn't notice any sign of prejudice toward those who are African-descended, so I'm not sure if that is absent, or simply not shown. But I kept noticing a different, huge absence - the lack of "Columbians". While this alternate world is very similar to our Earth in many ways, it appears that Columbia existed in a "terra nullius" state before European settlement. This erasure of a continent's native inhabitants (possibly to prevent the problematic question of "invasion" from muddying the brave settlers narrative) constantly bothered me.Gender roles were the other point which kept distracting me from the narrative. This is a world of magic, and it appears both men and women can possess and practice powerful magic. Both boys and girls attend school, learn spells, and can go to college. Yet all the women were concentrated on the business of husbands, children, and chores. The only woman shown in any kind of position of power or authority was a school teacher. All the professor level teachers shown were male. There was some brief mention of employed women, but I could not for the life of me determine whether there was a glass ceiling to this society, or if it was mere coincidence that all the females we met concentrated on "women's things" and (with the exception of the wonderful teacher) were, essentially, rather dull - caught up in boys, sewing or chores. They might study magic, but they used it to help wash the clothes.Eff is the only exception to female dullness, and that only in the last quarter of the book. Her sisters, with the exception of selfish, boy-hungry Rennie, are ciphers without personality and I kept contrasting her family to E Nesbit's Bastables - even the 'girly' elder sister would have adventures _occasionally_ among the Bastables, and show some sign of life, imagination and something other than doing the chores.So I enjoyed a lot about this story, but only by not looking at certain aspects of it.