Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Across the Great Barrier

Across the Great Barrier (Frontier Magic Book 2)
Patricia C Wrede
339 Pages

Eff is riding west, away from the safety of the frontier city she's always known.... 
Eff could be a powerful magician if she wanted to. Except she's not sure she wants that kind of responsibility. Everyone keeps waiting for her to do something amazing--or to fail in a spectacular way. Worse, her twin brother, Lan, a powerful double seventh son, is jealous of all the attention she's been getting.
Even as Eff protests that she's just an ordinary girl, she's asked to travel past the Barrier Spell with one of the new professors at her father's school. The land west of the Barrier is full of dangers, both magical and wild. Eff will need to use all her strength--magical and otherwise--to come safely back home.
-description taken from goodreads

This review contains no spoilers for this book or the first in the series.

There's an unfortunate trend in trilogies called "The Second Book Slump". Unlike the first installment where the world and characters are fun and new, the second book is often drier and just a stepping stone for the author to get to the finale. Although an experienced author, Wrede falls into this trap with her second in the Frontier Magic series.

For those who haven't read the first in the series (The Thirteenth Child), Patricia Wrede sets up a unique, alternate history of post civil war America where magic is taught in universities and western expansion means contending with dangers such as steam dragons. It's a fantastic world, but the novelty of it wears off  after one volume. In this one I wanted to learn more about Eff, the protagonist who, although possessing a great talent for magic, has had the stigma of being an unlucky thirteenth child following her all her life. Instead of this, I had to sit through about two hundred pages of Wrede listing off various magical plants and animals. There wasn't any real development at all, and all the main action was cornered off into the last quarter.

Although there were parts that should've been suspenseful, but because I had no reason to care about the characters I couldn't get invested in their problems. Reading this book was like drinking a flat soda; there was still some flavor, but all of the fun bubbles from earlier had fizzled out.

I will pick up the final installment, which comes out this August, eventually. I do believe in Wrede's skills as an author, and it's clear from the hints dropped throughout this volume that she's planning something big.