Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week Part I . . . 

 The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede -- Young Adult Historical/ Fantasy Fiction

Set in an alternate America, or Columbia, as it is called,in the 19th century, this book is a coming-of-age tale about Eff Rothmer, the thirteenth child in a family of fourteen children. Eff's twin brother Lan is a "double seven," the seventh son of a seventh son. In their small, magical community, Lan is revered for his natural magic and extra special good luck. Eff is not so lucky. Being the 13th child is considered unlucky and it is assumed the child will "go bad" one day. Eff lives in the shadow of Lan and is forced to put up with the taunting and tormenting of her cousins and the hatred of her uncle while Lan is held up and revered. When Eff and Lan are five, their Papa accepts a position at a new land-grand college in The North Plains Territory, just east of the Great Barrier that protects humans from the dangerous magical creatures that inhabit the West. In Mill City no one knows Eff and Lan or what they are and their parents ensure that their upbringing as as normal as possible. As they get older and their magical training begins, Eff Eff wonders if whether she really is unlucky and blames herself for anything that goes wrong. She confides in her favorite teacher, Miss Ochiba, who teaches Eff different types of magic and ways of seeing things that are different from the traditional Avrupan way. Still, Eff worries though her friend William thinks she's pretty special. A crop-eating grub crises in the settlements brings the Rothmers to the Rationalist Settlement, where people rely on hard work to get by, rather than magic. There Eff figures out her own magical dilemma and discovers just who she really is and what she is meant to be.  This story is told in the first-person past tense, which makes it difficult to read. Eff tells her story from age five to age eighteen as a summary of her life. Unfortunately, it takes the entire book to get anywhere and achieve anything like a plot. As a result, the ending feels rushed and summarized. The magical world isn't as charming and fully fleshed out as Harry Potter's world and creates a lot of confusion. I would have also enjoyed learning more about the strange beasts before they enter the story. This book lacks Wrede's characteristic humor and features a heroine with such little self-esteem that she's not very enjoyable to read about. I much prefer Wrede's stories about 19th century England in a world that is much like our own to this far flung fantasy. I wouldn't recommend this book to adults but I think 8-12 year olds who haven't read much fantasy will enjoy it.

Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein -- Young Adult Historical Fiction 

Lady Catherine Archer's father dies for his Queen and his country, leaving Catherine an orphan thrown on the mercy of poor, unfeeling relatives. When a summons from Queen Elizabeth (I) arrives, Catherine is thrilled to join the Queen's court as a maid of honor. Catherine soon learns that life with Queen Elizabeth is not as fun as it sounds. The aging queen is much troubled and her mood changes by the minute. Some of the other maids are not quite friendly. Still, Catherine enjoys her new life, especially the handsome Walter Ralegh who captures the Queen's eye and becomes her new favorite. Walter, too, is smitten by the bold, beautiful young maid. As Walter Ralegh becomes elevated in the Queen's favor, he dreams of settling a colony in the New World in a new land he will name Virginia after the Queen and a land in which he will be ruler. After some setbacks, an initial party returns with tales of an Eden on earth and friendly "savages." They even return with two Indians to show the Queen: Wanchese, an older, cynical Roanoke leader and Manteo, a young Croatoan man with big dreams. Catherine is fascinated by the tales of adventure in the wilderness and longs to see it for herself. She dreams of being by Sir Walter's side as they rule Eden in peace. Catherine's dream is shattered when the jealous Queen discovers Catherine and Sir Walter's secret love. Catherine is betrayed and banished; banished to the new land they call Virginia. Life in Virginia is not quite what Catherine, now called Cate, had dreamed of. Her beloved Walter remains in England and Eden is nowhere to be found around Roanoke. The English quarrel with each other, worry about attacks from the Spanish and the Indians as they try to make their new home in this strange land. The Indians are not thrilled to have the English settle on their lands but Cate manages to make a fragile peace with the women, while Manteo works on the male leaders of neighboring tribes. The colonists wonder if Manteo is trustworthy and whether ships will return with the supplies they desperately need. Manteo dreams of honor and glory for his people, but questions the best way to do it. Should he side with the antagonistic Wanchese or  help the English who have become his friends, especially the beautiful "ladi-cate"? Meanwhile, back in England, Sir Walter struggles to maintain the favor of the Queen so that he can sail to Virginia, become wealthy and return with Lady Catherine. Strong-willed, opinionated and brave, Catherine is ready to face any challenge that comes her way.  

This book is an attempt to explain what may have happened to the Lost Colony of Roanake using alternating viewpoints of Catherine Archer, Sir Walter Ralegh and Manteo. It blends fact with fiction to create a compelling story rich in detail. As you know, I adore historical detail and this book is full of wonderful descriptions of life in Elizabethan England and in Roanoke. I really felt like I was right there all along. I could quibble about Cate being a very modern character and transitioning too quickly from shy girl to bold woman, but I won't complain because she really is a great character and a good role model for teenage girls of any century. The only real problem I had with the story was Sir Walter Ralegh. His story is uninteresting and I didn't care for the unlikely romantic pairing of Sir Walter and Lady Catherine. The chapters from his point-of-view contain letters and memorandum that bog down the otherwise exciting plot. An author's note explains the known facts about the mystery of Roanoke and provides sources to learn more, which is always a plus for me. I highly recommend this book to teens and adults. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.