So Many Books... - Thirteenth Child, Patricia Wrede
May. 15th, 2009
05:34 pm - Thirteenth Child, Patricia Wrede
I'm going to have to put my hand up on this one, and admit that I loved it while reading it, and felt that the absence of Native Americans in the alternate historical setting of Columbia might not be automatically wrong. For one thing, I thought it was an alternate enough world, and even more I suspected that there'd be a revelation about the peopling of the land in the second book which might undercut what the people living near the Frontier thought they knew about the areas farther west.
Then I saw this today: "The *plan* is for it to be a "settling the frontier" book, only without Indians (because I really hate both the older Indians-as-savages viewpoint that was common in that sort of book, *and* the modern Indians-as-gentle-ecologists viewpoint that seems to be so popular lately, and this seems the best way of eliminating the problem, plus it'll let me play with all sorts of cool megafauna)".
[ETA the link for the quote, thanks to coalescent. It was here. Also edited to remove a bit of disclaiming about how I hadn't seen the original link. I think her reply to the reply is ... well, there's not much hope of what I've hoped for at the end of this post.]
Because that statement is -- well, not something I can hold together with loving the book its author produced.
That said, and I hope said clearly enough, I also want to explain briefly why it makes me so very, very sad. Primarily it's because the seriousness with which Wrede treats her system(s) of magic is fantastic. The repeated phrase is Harry Potter meets Little House and personally I think that's daft, because this book blows the magic classes in Harry Potter so far out of the water it's ridiculous. Kids in Thirteenth Child start learning magic in the 4th grade and in Eff's school, they're taught, by the wonderful Miss Ochiba, not to wave wands around or make potions but to look at everything from multiple perspectives. And they go on to learn theory, and Miss Ochiba teaches them the three types of magic, rather than just the dominant European-equivalent magic. And Wrede doesn't write down to anyone, but treats her readers with the respect for their curiosity for how things WORK that Miss Ochiba gives her students. BTW, Miss Ochiba is not 'humorously depicted', as I have seen it claimed that all PoC are in the book.
Another thing I loved about it was the depiction of the Rationalists - a group believing that magic is a crutch which will weaken people physically and mentally, and so refuse to use it themselves. This could have been such an easy opportunity to dismiss them all as narrow-minded cranks, but they aren't at all. They're intelligent people (some of them, anyway) who've made a choice which is very much against the grain of societal norms and accept the abuse and hardship living by their beliefs brings. BUT, it's not that simple either. Just when you're thinking that the arrogance of some of the higher-level magic practitioners (as, for example, the professors in the college where Eff's father teaches) and the apparent validation of the Rationalists' views about the dangers of relying on magic is going to be shown to be 100% right, there's a twist. One of Eff's sisters is living in a Rationalist settlement, and suddenly things change when she gives an anguished outburst about the cost of not using the magic that's as much a part of her as her sight or limbs. Multiple perspectives again.
And there's the fact that it's a fantasy in which the grave crisis which the protagonist(s) will have to face is a *bug* which is destroying crops. How cool is that? No Dark Lord, no World Domination plans, but a perfectly naturally intentioned grub. Plus the family dynamics are great. I was especially pleased at Eff's parents' calm certainty that it was not only damaging for Eff to be bullied as a result of anti-thirteenth child bigotry but equally damaging for her twin brother Lan to be treated as the special snowflake he actually is, as the seventh son of a seventh son. They're so right about this, and about being determined enough to save both children from it to take the drastic step of leaving the town where they've lived and all the family there to move out to the Frontier.
Yes, but, I haven't forgotten who *should* be inhabiting the lands where that frontier is... It's very hard to imagine how the series could be saved at this point, but it would be truly magical if Wrede could acknowledge the massive offense in the erasure of Native Americans in the book and make it right in later ones.