The Frontier Magic trilogy

Thirteenth Child
Across the Great Barrier
The Far West, by Patricia C. Wrede

This middle grade/YA trilogy is now several years old, but I completely missed it.  I like Patricia C. Wrede, who wrote the Dealing With Dragons books and generally seems to have a lively imagination. 

The story stars Eff, and tells the story of her life from birth all the way through her mid-20s.  It's an alternate history world in which magic is real and the world abounds with magical critters, many of which are highly dangerous -- especially on the Columbian continents, which are crammed so full of lethal animals that exploration and expansion are extremely difficult.  In a frontier Columbia where history is very different from ours, Eff tries to figure out where she belongs.

Thirteenth Child starts with Eff as a tiny little girl; her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son, which makes him a powerful magician, but she is kid #13, and some of her relatives are convinced that she is naturally evil.  The situation is bad enough that her parents move out to the western frontier, and Eff grows up with secret fears that she really will turn out evil, which tends to short out her magic abilities. 

In Across the Great Barrier, Eff is starting to come into her own, and develops an interest in working with animals.  She joins an expedition to the West, encountering a Rationalist settlement, a plague of mirror bugs that eat everything in their path, and finally, a terrifying new species of lizard that may threaten everyone.

The Far West features Eff as a young woman, now working full-time in animal research.  The new species of lizard is so dangerous that Cathay has sent a delegation of magicians to investigate, and encourages a large expedition to push further west than anyone has before.  (In this world, Lewis and Clark didn't get far and never came back.)  Eff discovers more about herself, and about magic, than she dreamed.

Wrede really let herself go with the critters!  Columbia does not only have swarming weasels and mirror bugs; there are mammoths and saber cats, steam dragons and invisible foxes.  Some are magic, some not.  It's a lot of fun.  The history is so different that there isn't a lot of comparison to our world.  It's a neat trilogy and I enjoyed reading it.  And I must say, it was extremely perilous!


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