It pays to pick up random books at the library. One of the disadvantages of the "hold" system is that too often I just run in, pick up my holds, and leave. The stacks are a great place to be reminded of favorite authors and to make new finds.
I have been a passionate fan of Wrede's Enchanted Forest series (Dealing with Dragons etc.). I don't know how her works fell off my radar. She has three series out that I haven't read. It looks like I'll be spending some time filling in gaps in both this series (Frontier Magic) and the Regency Magic Series including Cecelia and Kate series and the Mairelon series (coauthored with Caroline Stevermer). I'm glad that I'm teaching YA lit in the spring. It will give me a good reason to explore these two series.
Wrede uses strong young women as her protagonists. In this book the main character, Eff (short for ??--Francine??--I'll fix this later!), is a twin to a 7th son of a 7th son. Her parents have managed to produce 14 children. Consequently she is number 13. Her uncle and several other family members are convinced that this is very unlucky and that she will bring doom upon all around her.
In part, because of this negativity, her parents decide to move to a college on the "frontier" where her father will teach and Eff will be freed of the negative expectations of her relatives.
Wrede has created an alternative history of the US. As I read it, she is paralleling the westward expansion in the US. The college is on the banks of the "Mammoth River" which I believe is the Mississippi. In this alternative world there is magic and Eff's father is a professor of magic at the university. It appears to me that the theme of the series relates to how cultures have combined in the US to create a new world (that is really new!, not just a salad of the cultures who have arrived here). Included is the challenge we all face with letting go of our expectations and seeing the world as it exists, rather than allowing our history to color or distort everything we see.
I am always impressed with Wrede's narrative skills. She slowly reveals the truth of her characters but keeps the reader going with "action" that intrigues. This is going to be a book I recommend to readers as a way to examine the "truth" of history. Although Wrede's world is fantasy, the alternative historical plot offers readers the opportunity to consider the truth of history. History is too often told by the "victor" and there are always alternative versions. Eff is a character that helps us consider how the "victors" in the US have perhaps overlooked some of the important elements of American History. She even throws in some gentle criticism of science and scientists.
A secondary theme that I suspect Wrede is exploring in this series is related to the magics that are present in the world. There are Aphrikan, Hirjer-Cathayan, and Avrupan magic traditions. I'll admit that it took me a while to do the phonics and understand that these might be considered African, Japanese-Chinese, and European magics. Regardless, Wrede does a good job of helping readers consider the value of embracing difference in any area of study (or world views).
I'll get back to you as I read the other books in this series.