Author: Patricia C. Wrede (web)
Number of Books: 3
Patricia C. Wrede’s series is about an alternate history America where magic and magical creatures exist. It follows one family–the Rothmers–as they move out to the frontier, where the unbridled wild is kept at bay by an enormous magical barrier. Mostly we spend time with Eff Rothmer, an unlucky 13th child and twin sister to Lan Rothmer, SUPER luck 7th son of a 7th son. People in this America have access to all kinds of magic, but Eff struggles while Lan flourishes.
This series spans a decade or more of time, and we get to see Eff grow up and learn more about her magic and the magical world around her. Her extended family drilled into her young head that being a 13th child was the absolute WORST and all the bad things that ever happened were her fault. Moving away from them to Mill City with her immediate family introduces her to new possibilities, and she gets to explore new places out west.
So, I’ll be the first person to tell you that Frontier Magic might not float everyone’s boat. It’s kind of meandering. It’s told, if I remember the audio correctly, as a letter or a notebook or a journal or something that an older Eff is writing to herself of her youth. So there’s decent chunks of these books where we’re just observing life and family and not a whole lot of drama is going on. But for me, I kind of enjoy these books, especially when they have a pioneer vibe like this series does, and an alternate history with magic. The world was different enough and intriguing enough to keep me engaged even when all I was hearing about was Eff’s work in the menagerie (a haven for magical creatures attached to the college in Mill City where her father works) or the days she and her group of travelers spend in the wilderness.
Eff herself is pretty rad. She might be the youngest girl in her family, but she’s got a lot of fire. Sure, she’s always believed what people said about her being unlucky, but she never loses her pluck. In fact, she grows into it. It was a treat to see her learn more about the different kinds of magic in the world and how she took that knowledge and crafted her own practices out of it that made her powerful. Eff is also pretty handy with a rifle, very sharp, and not all that afraid when, especially in the last two books, her traveling parties out west encounter some dangerous creatures.
The world in Frontier Magic is pretty great, although there’s a lack of background that the book/history nerd in me was DYING for. For example, the history of this world seems to loosely follow American history, at least up to the Civil War, but there’s still so much that’s unexplained! The world and the magic in it was pretty fascinating to me, so I would’ve loved more detail here. And also a map. I listened to these books on audio–Amanda Ronconi is a great narrator–but even when I looked online for a map, the one I found on Patricia C. Wrede’s site seemed inadequate. BUMMER.
It’s hard to classify these books in terms of age range because Eff starts out so young in book 1 (I think she’s 4), but is in her early 20s in book 3. Most certainly, these books are a coming-of-age for her. There are some hints at romances–well, maybe one hint that Eff is kind of oblivious to at first, and one romance that is kind of a foregone conclusion but also a little meh–but the focus is really Eff and her magic and her growth. It has a very middle-grade feel about it that I found myself craving when I couldn’t listen to it.
If you’re a fan of Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwick’s series, I’d say this is a good series for you to dive into. Same kind of vibe to me, with the added bonus of alternate history America (after what we call the Civil War, but I think before the turn of the century? Or just into it? I can’t remember now), and MAGIC. The audio is great as well! Very easy to listen to, and I liked Amanda Ronconi’s accent. It’s kind of country sounding, which was perfect for this series.