RogerBW's Blog

Across the Great Barrier, Patricia C. Wrede 23 August 2019

2011 fantasy. On a parallel American frontier, thirteenth-child Eff Rothmer is a heroine of sorts for working out how to solve the plague of insects that was destroying settlements west of the Great Barrier Spell. But that doesn't help her work out what to do next.

And indeed, while there are several interesting incidents, a fair bit of the idea of this book is Eff drifting while she tries to make up her mind. She goes on an expedition to gather information about and samples of the animals and plants west of the Great Barrier Spell, and comes across what even the slowest reader will realise are animals turned to stone well before anyone in the book mentions it. There's an incident involving her brother Lan and his studies at Simon Magus College in Philadelphia (and I'm assuming that this is based on one of the universities in real-world Philadelphia, just as many of the places on the frontier have the feel of being derived from Minneapolis (nicknamed "Mill City" in the real world) and its environs). There's a further expedition and the hunting of the petrifying beast. But Eff recounts all this in a remarkably flat way; she doesn't seem to feel very much, positive or negative. Her competence at "Aphrikan world-sensing", something she was taught in the first book, seems to wax and wane as the plot demands, and so does the list of things it can do.

A mention of "an old smoothbore rifle" seems a bit wrong (I mean, the point of a smoothbore is that it isn't rifled), but the accounts of hunting parties got up out of settlements that are already barely staying ahead of starvation are very effective. There's colour here, just not from Eff herself, but since she's first-person narrator she tends to take centre stage.

I suppose it's that this is a middle volume, but it feels as though it contains neither the start nor the end of a story. Definitely don't enter the series here.

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