The Far West

Over the last week I read the family Patricia C. Wrede’s latest, The Far West, which is the third (and, apparently, final) volume in the series that began with The Thirteenth Child and Across the Great Barrier; and we all enjoyed it thoroughly. I read the last fifth of book on Saturday evening, and my voice was beginning to go as we got to the final pages.

So the main point you should take away from this is, this is a darn good series and you should go read it. It’s probably the best set of new fantasy novels I’ve read in ages: both smart and funny, but with a serious core, and with a deep understanding of how people and families work.

I always have trouble reviewing the later books in series, because I don’t want to spoil the earlier books; consequently, I’ll just say a few words about the Frontier Magic trilogy as a whole. It takes place in an alternate United States, circa 1850 or so, but this is a world in which technology is magically based. More than that, human beings never made it to the New World, here called North and South Columbia, until the first Avrupans (Europeans) came. At that time, the continents were still the home of a vast variety of wildlife, including mammoths and saber cars, and also stranger things: magical creatures like spectral bears, swarming weasels, and steam dragons. It made colonization rather difficult, until Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, working together, managed to cast the Great Barrier spell—a magical boundary that runs up the Mammoth River from New Orleans to the end of the St. Laurence Seaway, and thence to the Atlantic. Wild animals can’t cross the barrier, and once the more dangerous fauna were dealt with the eastern territories were safe to settle in.

But that leaves the Western Territories. When Eff Rothmer is five years old, her family moves to a new town just beside the Mammoth River, where her father will teach in a new college. Settlers are moving out into the western territories despite the danger, and the college is intended to train them before they go. Eff’s father teaches magic, which is essential for safety in the territories. Eff’s father is a seventh-son; and her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son, and consequently gifted with great magical power. Eff, herself, is a “thirteenth child”—and what that means, for good or ill, is one of the things you’ll need to read the book to find out.

Wrede’s web site definitely refers to The Far West as “The final book of the Frontier Magic trilogy,” so the whole story is available now; go read ’em all. Me, I hope she gives in and writes another.

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