RogerBW's Blog

The Far West, Patricia C. Wrede 08 October 2019

2012 fantasy, third in the trilogy. In a parallel 19th century America, Eff Rothmer travels on an expedition past frontier territory, to where the magical beasts dwell.

Alas, though, Eff hasn't got much more interesting, and the narrative is absolutely focused on her. Amazing things happen, some of them things she does herself, but she never seems to feel any enthusiasm for or excitement about any of it.

Plot holes about, which doesn't help matters. There are what seem like interesting problems:

"We need an alarm spell," Mr. Corvales said when he heard about the protections on the corral being gone. "Something to tell us if the protection spells drop."

"We had one," Captain Velasquez told him. "The giant invisible foxes took it down along with everything else."

"Then we need something that won't go down if the rest of the spells do," Mr. Corvales said firmly.

but do they solve it the sensible way, by having a spell that stops a bell from ringing until it's taken down? No, they set up an alarm spell that's "anchored a ways back from the wall", and that should be fine. And they never find out whether it worked. A great deal of fuss is made about bringing a captured mammoth on the expedition, at great effort; but then it has to be turned loose and nobody ever learns why the enthusiast was so enthusiastic, and indeed it's not mentioned again. Eff makes a huge stride in the understanding of magic, but she doesn't seem to find this worthy of more than a passing mention.

There's a large cast of supporting characters, which doesn't help matters; most of them get a trait or two and that's it, and they're not on the page for long enough to develop anything further. There's just nobody here in whom I'm particularly interested, though I strongly suspect that picking a different narrator might have made the whole thing more fun. (Sergeant Amy, for example. Yes, this alt-US Army allows women in it, which makes all the 19th-century social ethos that women mostly keep the house and make babies even less supportable.)

This has the feel of a book written with an eye to the YA market: it's not just that it has a young protagonist, but rather the way she constantly returns in her thoughts to herself, her problems, her insecurities, and she's just not all that fascinating.

It feels terrible to say it, because I've very much enjoyed everything else I've read of Pat's, she gives superbly good writing advice on her blog, and we've got on well in person. But I really can't recommend this series.

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Previous in series: Across the Great Barrier | Series: Frontier Magic

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