Review of Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede. It’s a fantasy novel set in an alternative version of North America during the ‘Go West’ era. It is a frontier fantasy that turns North American into a magical land filled with strange supernatural creatures. The setting is quite problematic, so know this going in.
Loving problematic things
To me this is one of the books that comes to mind when people use the frase “It’s ok to like problematic things”. This books was one of the books that sparked another turn of Racefail. I was not on the book side of the internet in 2009, so when I read this, I had not encountered any of the discourse surrounding the book. I have the privilege of not getting hurt by any of the problematic things this book does with it’s setting, so I loved it and did not see it at the time.
In 2013 I didn’t know much about american history at the time and had not thought through the implications of completely removing the natives from the continent leaving it open for colonization by the white Europeans. Removing the native peoples from the story of North America not only erases the real history and ignores the real world atrocities that commited by Europeans against the natives. It also plays into white american mythors of taming a wild virgin land (Manifest Destiny).
Because I have learned and grown since I posted the original review, I debated with myself if I wanted to put it online again, when I reconstructed my blog. One the one hand I don’t like recommending problematic things, on the other hand I do want to keep myself accountable for what I had put on the internet before hand. So this review have a lot of caveats.
To keep myself accountable here is my original unedited review from 2013. I do not stand by some of what I wrote back then, but if you really want to you can go read it.
My review of Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
Thirteenth Child spoke to my inner lonely child who didn’t fit in and to my love for survival stories and frontier stories. They often have deeply problematic issues at their core, but I like man against nature stories.
I would recommend Thirteenth Child, if it wasn’t for the erasure it native americans. That might completely ruin the story for you, but if you can read past that and like man against nature stories, consider reading it.
My review edited from 2013 of Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
The setting is quite strange and the magic system and world building are really interesting.The book is set in an alternative America where the land was never settled before the Europeans came. The reason nobody lived there before is that the land is so wild and dangerous that it is uninhabitable without magic. The book is set on the edge of the protected zone, so right on the edge of the frontier.
It is important to this is not set in our world even though that the landmasses are the same. Think parallel universe with magic. The world is full of very dangerous magical creatures, including very terrifying dragons and big woolly mammoths.
I can totally see how the lack of native americans can be seen as very problematic – that however didn’t annoy me personally but I have no horses in that – not having any American roots or family at all.
The first book is very much a story about growing up and coming of age. Our protagonist Eff is the female twin of a seventh son and she herself is a thirteenth child, she is also the youngest, yes that is a huge family.
Family places a huge role in this book and so does accepting and embracing who you are. Friendship is also a big theme throughout both books. This is also a school story where a fantastic teacher is gets Eff to accept herself and gives her the confidence to go on an adventure.
The story has Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables vibes. Neither have aged all that well, but I loved both as a young teenager.
This review was originally posted: November 1, 2013. Updated and edited June 28, 2023