Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review of 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison

13-year-old Tanya sees fairies - and she wishes she didn't. There are three in particular who persist in tormenting her, especially when she tries to divulge her strange ability to anyone - or even in her private journal. This leads to some strange behavior and situations, and finally her exasperated mother packs Tanya off to her maternal grandmother, Florence.

Only Florence, the caretaker Warwick, and Warwick's crazy old dad Amos and eccentric son Fabian live in Florence's large old house next to a forest. Tanya and Fabian are somewhat reluctantly thrown together (as the adults don't seem to want them around) and soon it becomes clear that something is very wrong in the forest and the village. A spate of missing children, particularly virulent forest fairies, stories of changelings, and the ghost - or something - of a girl who went missing decades ago are all connected with Tanya's mysterious and startling family history.

This story from a debut author has a fresh voice and an unusual perspective on fairies, for these creatures are far from the exotic, gorgeous, compelling creatures of many a recent teen novel. Rather, they are pesky, odd, sometimes homely, and often downright malicious or even dangerous. Most of the contact between fairies and humans in 13 Treasures is decidedly negative, making it clear that the two realms are separate for a very good reason.

Some of the plot lines are rather abrupt or undeveloped, in particular the fascinating tale of young Red and her mission to aid changeling children (both human and fairy). The "13 Treasures" of the title could have been left out of the book entirely without many readers noticing - they are quite incidental to the plot, although they do make for an interesting story.

Only the characters of Tanya and Fabian come alive (Florence and Warwick remain ciphers, although one does eventually understand - sort of - why they are so cold and unwelcoming) - and luckily they and their adventures are intriguing enough to grab and hold a reader's interest. The old and derelict house, with its unused or boarded-up rooms and secret passages, has a deliciously Gothic personality of its own, although again, not always to a real purpose. No matter - I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the brooding house, the chilly grandmother, the alarming groundskeeper, and the malignant fey creatures.
This is an fine, atmospheric fantasy for all fans of fairy lore. For ages 10 - 13.