***This review has appeared previously at [...]***
This is the third (and, as far as I know, final) book in the Frontier Magic series. I love this series! My quick and dirty tagline for it when I'm trying to hand-sell it at the bookstore is: Harry Potter meets Little House on the Prairie. It's so much more complicated than that, but when you've got ten seconds to get a middle schooler's attention you work with what you've got. I like these books so much that I did a video review of book one, The Thirteenth Child. It's pretty terrible, but you can go watch it if you want a good laugh.
The world is essentially 19th century America, but magic has always been known and because of that things have developed a little differently. The biggest differences for our purposes are these: it's not America, it's Columbia; westward expansion has essentially stopped at the Mammoth River (The Mississippi for us) due to the uncontrollable wildlife on the other side; Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson managed to create a barrier using the river that keeps all magical animals to the west; there is no Native American presence (I assume because of the dangers of the wildlife although it is not specified in the text); the Civil War worked a little bit differently, but the end result is the same and slavery has been abolished, although it was never as big a deal there as it was here due to the difficulty of clearing large plantations.
As in most fairy tales, the seventh son of a seventh son is considered the most powerful magician known. However, especially in the eastern-most areas of the country, thirteenth children are considered more than unlucky, they're seen almost as plague carriers. The best case scenario is that their bad luck could spread unintentionally; the worst case is that they become twisted and lash out on purpose. Eff is a thirteenth child, but also the twin of a double seventh son. Throughout the entire series she has been struggling with the matter of who she is, what she can do, and what she should do. At the same time, she has begun to come into her own as an explorer. In each book she takes a trip across the Great Barrier into regions very few people have explored.
In this third book, Eff joins an academic expedition into the far west. Their aim is to go further than the last successful expedition and catalog the plants and animals along the way. Several new threats have been moving eastward in the last several years. The expedition hopes, among other things, to give the settled communities some hint of what is coming so that they can prepare for it.
I cannot say enough good things about this series. I've read the first book three times now, the second twice, and I think tonight when I get home I'll start book three for the second time. It is an amazing series. And I don't mean for a young adult series. There are things in this series about identity, self-worth, inner strength, and ways of seeing the world that I'm still trying to get a grip on in my thirties. So, if you have any interest in this type of book, westward expansion, fantasy literature, awesome female characters, please please please give this series a shot.