by Michelle Harrison
(April 12th 2010, Little, Brown Books)
Thirteen-year-old Tanya has an unusual gift: she can see fairies. When she’s sent off to her grandmother’s manor in the country after yet another incident involving them, she discovers a fifty-year-old secret whose ramifications still haunt her family. With the assistance of Fabian, the groundskeeper’s son, she must unravel the mystery of the disappearance of Morwenna Bloom and stop her legacy for destroying Tanya’s family forever.
13 Treasures is an atmospheric fantasy that’s chock-full of fairy lore – perfect for days when you want a dark (but kid-friendly) fantasy. The mystery of Morwenna Bloom’s disappearance at the center of it all is well constructed and fascinating. The inclusion of members of Tanya’s grandmother’s household also means more risks and a personal stake in the solving of the mystery. Michelle Harrison’s use of fairy lore here, while not unique, is great. It’s difficult to make small creatures like the fey seem dangerous, but she does an admirable job of it. So many other concepts here are also superb. My favorites are the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and the thirteen treasures, but there are some others that almost as great.
Tanya makes for a good, if unremarkable, heroine; but the real stand-outs here are sharp-as-a-whip Fabian and dauntless, single-minded Red. Their support of the story as it progresses decreases boredom with slower-moving portions of the plot and adds much-needed zest.
The portrayal of abusive and unhealthy relationships is well-calibrated, as is the treatment of the negligent parental relationships (with one major exception). The author never sets out to vilify or demonize, as is common. Rather, she demonstrates the consequences of such relationships on people earnestly. There’s some emotional resonance here as well. The near-perpetual fear that Tanya experiences is realistic, and Red’s sacrifice at the end of the book is surprising, but is, at last, moving. The finale is brilliant and delivers non-stop action until the bittersweet, mostly-conclusive ending.
Much of the writing in 13 Treasures is the stilted prose of a writer who hasn’t quite found her style yet. When Harrison attempts to craft more sophisticated prose it ends up feeling inorganic and flat. This severely affects the treatment of the emotions of characters in that she often tells instead of showing.
I felt that Tanya’s mother’s decision to (temporarily) abandon her child during a difficult time is an appalling, messy plot contrivance. It’s doubly offensive considering the significantly harsher treatment of the less-bad relationship between Fabian and Warwick.
Also, the first half of the book is far too uneventful. Much of what occurs could have easily been compressed significantly. In fact, I’m sure it could have been cut down by half.
Harrison’s dialogue, while good in general, can sometime falter in that characters will often make long, rehearsed-sounding, info-dump-laden speeches. This becomes specifically irritating during the ending where the antagonists obligingly explain in detail their plans to the protagonists.
With its atmospheric setting, magic, and mostly-engaging plot, 13 Treasures is a flawed but ultimately satisfying tale that will make readers impatient for future volumes. This promising first book will appeal to fans of the Spiderwick Chronicles and British manor fantasies.
Get 13 Treasures on Book Depository.
For more excellent MG book recommendations, go to Shannon Messenger's blog.
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