Fantasy Mystery Romance Comics Non-Fiction

Thirteenth Child

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thirteenth Child (2009) Patricia C. Wrede

This story is set in an alternate US (North Columbia) in the mid-1800s.

(T)he Columbian Presidents past the first five—George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Eduard Baier, and Herman Augustus Morton.

Eff is the twin of a seventh son, and also a thirteenth child.

EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT A SEVENTH SON IS LUCKY. THINGS COME A little easier to him, all his life long: love and money and fine weather and the unexpected turn that brings good fortune from bad circumstances. A lot of seventh sons go for magicians, because if there’s one sort of work where luck is more useful than any other, it’s making magic.

Nobody seems to think much about all the other sons, or the daughters. There’s nearly always daughters, because hardly anybody has seven sons right in a row, boom, like that.

I adore this book.

Eff is a complex and complicated character–she is told by her extended family that she is bad like–evil even–and takes that into her head. Luckily, her immediate family loves her, and try to convince her this isn’t true. But Eff’s story reminds us that the negative things we were told about ourselves take hold and are very difficult to root out later.

But it is of course more than that.

I hardly knew my oldest brothers and sisters. Frank had been away at university since the year I was born. Sharl and Julie had both gotten married before I was two, and Peter had gone off East to school in the same year. Diane had moved out the year before, to keep the books for a candy-making business one of Papa’s friends owned. Even Charlie, who was going off to university in the fall, was older enough that I didn’t see him much. They felt more like strange grown-ups I had to be polite to than like family.

This passage has always stuck in my mind. My grandmother’s youngest sister, and her oldest brother’s first child were only a year apart. Cousin Margie always called my grandmother Aunt Lil, but called Grandmom’s youngest sister Doris.

It’s one of the things that I don’t think we consider in a modern world. That all those large families of the late 19th and early 20th century would have been nothing like our current families, and unlike in ways we’d never consider.

It seemed wrong to me that all the doctors and magicians should put so much work into trying to keep me alive, when if they’d known I was a thirteenth child and bound to turn evil in a few years, they wouldn’t have lifted a finger.

That’s terribly disheartening, but also precisely what happens if we aren’t careful.

But that is NOT what is awesome about this book. What is awesome is that it is all about natural history and learning about the world and science. Half the continent is unknown, and what many people want most is to learn more about that world.

“You can mail me your notes whenever it’s convenient,” Professor Jeffries assured him.

A month later, a tatty-looking packet arrived for Professor Jeffries, containing ten pages that looked like they’d been crumpled up, sat on, and maybe used to strain coffee.

“June third, eight miles north from Klein settlement. Red fox and three kits at watering hole. Deer mice tracks. Iceweed at water’s edge; haven’t seen this far south before. Looks spindly.”

Science and discovery take time and work and mistakes, and this book does a wonderful job showing that, while building an amazing and fascinating world.
Rating: 9/10

Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks

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