Frontier magic series by Patricia C. Wrede

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Scholastic Press.
(Age: 11+) Recommended. The Thirteenth child and Across the Great Barrier are the first two books in a trilogy set in the wild west of an alternative America where magic is used as a natural part of the world. I loved the setting in this series. The idea of an alternative America, with pioneers getting land grants, and facing the dangers of strange wild animals, grabbed me and kept my interest through the two books. Wrede's magic, and the learning of the spells, is all set in a commonplace school, and seemed to me as the reader, to be as real as normal school lessons. (Apparently the fact that Native Americans do not feature as part of her world caused some controversy in the US).
Eff, short for Francine, is an engaging heroine, and it is her story of gradually being able to shed the stigma of being the 13th child, that is at the heart of the stories. Although she doubts herself, her goodness and compassion shine through the book. The relationship Eff has with her twin, Lan, and with William, a school friend, form a thread that keeps interest alive. Wash, a circuit guide, is also a fascinating character, and the interactions of members of such a large family were well written.
I await the third installment in the series to see just how much Eff comes of age and how she uses her magic powers.
Thirteenth child. Scholastic, 2009. ISBN 9780545033459. Eff is the 13th child and twin to Lan, who is the seventh son of a seventh son. Being the 13th is supposed to bring bad luck, and Eff has grown up believing that she does bring bad things to her family and town. When her family move to a school near the magical divide that keeps out the beasts of the wild, Eff begins to believe in herself.
Across the Great Barrier, Scholastic, 2011. ISBN 9780545033433. Eff, now almost grown up, goes out past the magical Great Barrier, as an assistant to a Professor, who is studying the effect of a magical bug on the countryside. The land is full of dangers, and Eff must come to grips with her magical powers to keep herself and the pioneers communities safe.
Pat Pledger