I remember finishing the book and looking forward to the next book (which I didn't pick up until a few years later). Honestly, now, I don't remember anything about reading the first two books. While I was requesting books to keep my kids (and me) reading this summer, I remembered the series and decided to give them another try. That was when I found out about the third book. So I requested all three. I started reading "The Thirteenth Child" last week.
Patricia has recreated the wild west by adding magic & fantastical animals. Beyond the great divide is a wild land full of dragons, mammoths, and sabertooth tigers-- some magical, some normal. Her main character, Eff, is not your standard heroine. She is not brave, she is not bold. Most of the time, she'd prefer to be left alone and ignored. But she manages to still capture your heart.
I will admit that sometimes I struggle to remember the new geography she presents. America is New Columbia, the Mississippi has another name, etc. It can be confusing if you try to put all her places in context, but I imagine most kids won't bother to do that. The Far West will be a new, completely uncharted, and never visited country they can explore.
Patricia Wrede has an amazing ability to meld magic and history together, add in a little mythology and a lot of fantasy and create an interesting read. I love the medusa lizards! It reminds me of a writing workshop I once attended about mixing up two or three normal things to get something new. These books are a perfect example. Just think: Cowboy magicians!
Here's a couple links for you:
The Thirteenth Child on Amazon