by Patricia C. Wrede
This is a coming of age story of a girl on the frontier in an alternate America where magic is a part of daily life and woolly mammoths and steam dragons threaten the settlements. Eff Rothmer must sort out her relationships with magic, her family, the frontier, and herself, while confronting greater threats to the west and the nation.
I love this book. In fairness, this was my second time reading it, so I already knew I loved it. I read it years ago, before the second and third in the series came out, and I’ve been wanting for a while to read the other two, and I finally got around to rereading this one so that I could go ahead and read the others. Wrede is just brilliant–how she reinvents America while keeping it recognizable, devises interweaving magic systems, and creates characters that you fall in love with.
From a writer’s perspective, I learned from this book to ask the question, “What is the story the character is telling herself?” What is the internal monologue, the mantra, whether uplifting or negative? Eff definitely tells herself a story throughout the book, and it defines who she is, and her twin brother tells himself a very different story. We all, as humans, tell ourselves stories that define who we are–whether we say we’re not good enough, or whether we tell ourselves that we’re strong and we’ve got this, or whatever the story may be–and they help shape who we become. I’m going to be paying more attention to those stories within my own characters, and I’m also going to be careful about the stories I tell myself, to keep them positive.