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Literature / Thirteenth Child

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Book one of the Frontier Magic series by Patricia C. Wrede. It's set in an Alternate Universe where magic is a normal part of life for the settlers on the Columbian (their version of America) frontier.

Eff Rothmer was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he's supposed to possess amazing talent — and she's supposed to bring only bad things to her family and her town. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that separates settlers from the beasts of the wild.

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This book provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Averted. The adults are the people Eff, Lan and William go to with concerns for good reason.
  • Age Cut: Happens a few times with Eff going through a few years in just a paragraph and then resuming the narrative.
  • Alternate History: The nineteenth-century American frontier with magic, dragons and wooly mammoths.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Professor Rothmer thinks Eff's aborted attempt to blow up her uncle was a fluke, even though he's presumably seen stranger things from his students.
  • As You Know: Eff starts the book by talking about how everyone knows seventh sons are special.
  • Audience Murmurs: How the Rationalists crowd in Oak River showed its approval of Eff being willing to go out without protection spells.
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  • Badass Longcoat: Seemingly a requirement for living west of the Great Barrier Spell.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Eff spent years being sure that she was going to go bad one day.
  • Berserk Button: Don't pick on Eff when Lan is around. Or any of her other siblings, for that matter.
  • Children Are Innocent: Examined. Eff treated as a monster by her extended family for the first five years of her life, despite never doing anything to deserve it. Years later, when she catches herself wondering whether her sister's possible death would change her status as an unlucky thirteenth, her first reaction is to believe that her aunts and uncles were right about her all along.
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  • Close-Knit Community: Mill City, as they are assured as soon as they arrive.
  • Don't Split Us Up: An unusual example, as it was only for the month or so that the family stayed in their old hometown, but Lan insists that he and Eff stay together so he can protect her.
  • Doom Magnet: Eff thinks she's this, among other things, thanks to her extended family's abuse.
  • Enfant Terrible: Another thing the extended Rothmer family suspects Eff of having been.
  • Ethnic Magician: Miss Ochiba and Wash, who use Aphrikan (aka African) conjure magic rather than the Avrupan (aka European) magic of almost everyone else.
  • Expospeak: The professors do this occasionally. William and Lan get in on it too, after they go East for school.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Played with. As the setting is an AU Earth, the lands and cultures are pretty much the same, but they all have different names. Columbia is America, Aphrika is Africa, Avrupa is Europe, Ashia is Asia and Cathay is China, among others.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: The Rationalists, to some extent, though instead of not believing in something that's there, they decide to go without it (meaning going about their lives on the frontier without the use of magic to protect them.)
  • Friendly Rivalry: Lan and William have one going when they come back from boarding school.
  • Heroic Safe Mode: Caused by Professor Rothmer with a magic-dampening spell after Eff's argument with Earn
  • Higher Education Is for Women: According to settlers, at least.
  • Historical Domain Character: Ben Franklin was a double-seventh son in this world. He and Thomas Jefferson, also a double-seven (Something neither was in our world — they were a tenth and an only son, respectively), created the Great Barrier Spell to keep the United States of Columbia safe from western wildlife.
  • Ill Girl: Eff is this for a while after fighting off rheumatic fever.
  • Magical Seventh Son: Lan. It isn't until the third book that people realize that Eff, as the seventh daughter of a seventh son, also applies.
  • Missing Mom: William's mother is an invalid, never shows up in story, and is implied to be unable to have any role in William's raising
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Played with. Jefferson and Franklin did leave behind their notes for the Great Barrier Spell, but since Franklin was self-taught and Jefferson tended to assume that everyone was as well read as he was, nobody can make any sense out of them.
  • Numerological Motif: 7 and 13.
  • Power Trio: Eff, Lan and William are ego, id and superego, respectively.
  • The Professor: Several, Eff's father being the main example,
  • Reality Ensues: If you are an adult bullying a child who has loving parents and siblings, they will show no sympathy when the child hits a Rage Breaking Point, especially when it's supposed to be a happy occasion.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Eff's parents and mentors. Her parents refuse to believe that she is bad luck, case in point, and do all they can to assure her that she is loved and wanted. When Rennie elopes, her parents are disappointed but her father makes sure to visit Rennie after she has a baby and makes sure she's all right. Meanwhile her teachers see all her potential and do their best to encourage it.
  • Shotgun Wedding: It's revealed that Rennie ran off with a Rationalist because of this; she was sleeping with him and found out she was pregnant. Rather than being forced to confess to her family, whose reaction might have been different, she ran off.
  • Twin Desynch: Happens a bit after Eff spent a year bedridden
  • Unequal Rites: Avrupan mages are called magicians while Aphrican mages are conjurefolk and leaders Hijero-Cathayan covens are called adepts.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Subverted. Lan is supposed to be the great magician of the family, but Eff is the one that saves the day

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