I really enjoyed the concept of this book, the idea of magic in the time of the American westward expansion, but ultimately the execution fell flat for me. A couple of things stuck out to me:
* The complete lack of Native Americans. I can see this has generated some controversy. It stuck out like a sore thumb to me and left me constantly waiting to see when Wrede would introduce them. Alternate history is fine, but you have to go way, way back to find a plausible explanation for why no people entered the middle section of North America. I mean, Columbia.
* I would have enjoyed more explanation of each type of magic. The explanations given seemed vague and a little confusing. I can chalk that up to being simply the protagonist's relatively limited knowledge of the study of magic, being young and on the frontier. However, it felt as though no one else really knew the facts, either. The description of the spells left me cold especially compared to the rich magical world of, say, Harry Potter, where I really got the feeling that Rowling had a concrete idea of what each spell and concept was supposed to do.
* The plot could have been a little more energetic. On one hand, I compared it to a book I recently read called The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
. Not much happens in that book, either, and it's a similar time with a similar protagonist. However, this particular book was crying out for something more interesting. It's a series, so there is definitely room to grow to a more satisfying climax, but the danger as occurred in this book left me cold.
* The character interactions felt forced in some cases and completely unrealistic in others. Telling the adult "Mr."s apart was near-impossible for me, with so little description of their appearance given; only the children's interaction with each other really felt natural.
I will definitely read the next volume in the series, but if it doesn't pick up this will be a non-starter for me.