Across the Great Barrier is the second of the Frontier Magic books and, as the title suggests, the most intersting parts take place west of the Mammoth/Mississippi River. The same goes for The Far West, the third and final volume. Where the St. Lawrence Seaway exists in our world to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico through the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, and other rivers and channels, Wrede’s world has the Great Barrier along those waterways. This is a powerful spell created by two double seventh sons, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to keep the dangerous wildlife of the West out. In this world, there are no Native Americans in America/Colombia, just lots of animals of varying levels of danger.
Essentially, as humans move further westward, they are gradually clearing the land of larger and more dangerous beasts. But on the west side of the river, settlements are built behind palisades and guides are necessary for even a short trip. This is a huge contrast to the civilized East where everything is older, more established, and far safer. The Far West, as people call it, is the land out beyond the furthest settlements, which very little is known about. Lewis and Clark’s expedition spent the cold months on what is now known as Wintering Island, but they disappeared the following spring and no one knows what happened to them afterwards. We’re quite sure they died, considering it was fifty years prior to these books.
This is where the adventure part of Frontier Magic really shines. Not only are we going out to the places where things are far less defined, but we’re finding new things that have never been seen before and learning how to deal with them. In one of Eff’s dreams, she describes how she sees her birthplace on the East Coast and how it seems grey, washed out, and faded in comparison with the frontier she’s grown up on.
These books are the hero’s journey done right. We see Eff grow and change, spotlighting key parts of her life from the time she was five years old up through her early twenties. She’s a quiet person, who’d much rather observe and keep her mouth shut than speak out, as she’s never been one for attention. A lot of that is due to the generally negative interest she drew as a thirteenth child out east, and it’s simply become a part of who she is. All in all, Frontier Magic is an excellent set of young adult books. Not that you need to be young to enjoy them for what they are.
Speaking of being young, I started rereading a series that I’ve known for quite a long time, starting in the late nineties. This is the world of Irene Radford’s Dragon Nimbus, but I’m not actually reading that set. I started on the prequel to the prequel. Radford initially wrote the three books of the Dragon Nimbus, then the three books of the Dragon Nimbus History, followed by the fourth volume of the Dragon Nimbus, and then she went back and wrote The Stargods. Oh, and most recently she returned to this world and wrote Children of the Dragon Nimbus. But today we’re focused on the first set chronologically.
The first book of The Stargods trilogy is The Hidden Dragon. And before you even open the book, the cover (of the original mass market paperback, not the omnibus) shows a dragon sitting on a spaceship. In case you were wondering what kind of book this would be. I’d show a picture, but frankly, I don’t like the illustration that much. It is a scene right out of the book though, which I do appreciate.
Backing up a bit, we meet the O’Hara brothers. These may be the days of the Terran Galactic Empire and humans may have been traveling between the stars for over five hundred years, but the O’Haras are still Irish Catholics, complete with red hair and invoking saints’ names at the drop of a hat. The three men, Matthew Kameron O’Hara, Martin Konner O’Hara, and Mark Kimmer O’Hara, are on the run from the Imperial Military Police as smugglers. Better known as Loki, Konner, and Kim, the three flee wildly into the unknown, and stumble onto a strange planet. There they find dragons, and far more. Not just about the planet and its past, but also about themselves. The start of another hero’s journey, if you will.
Readers familiar with the later parts of the timeline, as I was, will recognize the foundations for those other books as laid out here. It’s probably one of the things I like most about reading prequels – seeing how the world I know and love came to be. Of course, that picture isn’t nearly complete after The Hidden Dragon: it is, after all, just the first book in a trilogy. And the IMPs are still out there, waiting to catch the infamous O’Hara brothers…