No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

2013/12: The Far West -- Patricia Wrede

The Far West -- Patricia Wrede

I wasn’t Aphrikan, and I wasn’t Avrupan, not really. I was Columbian, born and raised, for all my grandparents weren’t. I didn’t have to do things one way or the other. I could do either, or both, or mix them up until something worked. [loc 1564]

The conclusion to the Frontier Magic trilogy that began with The Thirteenth Child and continued with Across the Great Barrier. Disclaimer: I read The Far West straight after Across the Great Barrier [the joys of Kindle: instant next-book-in-series gratification!], so may have blurred the two together.

The Columbian government is keen to map the Far West of the continent, and Eff -- together with her twin brother Lan, their friend William, Eff's mentors Professor Torgeson and Professor Ochiba, and circuit rider Wash -- leaves 'civilisation' behind to spend a hard winter on the frontier.

There are plenty of adventures to keep them occupied: new species, both magical and mundane; the mysterious Cathayan delegation, who are part-funding the expedition; improbable readings from thaumaturgical instruments; a prairie winter. Eff also finds herself dealing with admirers in the plural -- and with the prejudices and expectations of her family. ("you think that just because I’m going on the expedition, I’ll turn into some kind of tart?” [loc. 2364]).

The plethora of new magical predators, and the peculiar build-up of magic along the Grand Bow River, indicate that more is at stake than Eff's virtue. But her magical skillset -- still a source of bemusement to her teachers and friends -- might prove more important than her brother's 'seventh son of a seventh son' geomancy, Professor Ochiba's Aphrikan magic, or the Cathayan Adept Alikaket's holistic approach.

It's a very American novel: the wild frontier, the pioneer spirit, the vastness of the landscape and the cultural melting-pot. There's also that sense that what you can do is more important than any accident of birth: personal qualities will get you further than a good name or a pale skin.

One of the aspects of this trilogy that I admire most is that it's not Epic Fantasy. There's no Big Bad or Evil Overlord; Eff is not a Chosen One. Instead, the threat comes from ecological imbalance, and it's countered by a team effort. Eff's role has nothing to do with gods or destiny. True, she has strong magic of her own (though even at the end of the trilogy she's still struggling to control and understand it) but it's her non-magical qualities -- helpfulness, willingness to learn, patience, amicability -- that qualify her as a member of the expedition, and bring her to the point where she can make a difference.

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