Thirteen Treasures, by Michelle Harrison, 2010, Book Review

13 treasuresTanya can see fairies. Unfortunately, she can’t explain away the odd things that always seem happen to her because no one else can see them. So Tanya ends up holding the blame each time they cause mischief. And now her mother has had enough. Tanya is being sent on an extended visit to her grandmother’s house. At Grandma’s, however, Tanya becomes entangled in a two hundred-year-old family mystery centered around–you got it–fairies.

I was not crazy about this book, even though it won England’s prestigious Waterston’s Children’s Book Prize. I felt like many of the narrated points were not solidly backed up with action or dialogue. For example, in Chapter One we see only one instance of Tanya’s (or rather, the fairies’) odd behavior. When Mom snaps and sends Tanya away, it feels forced and unsubstantiated, too sudden. What else has happened to cause this reaction? We aren’t given much. Also, Tanya’s friend Fabian is a pretty significant character. He’s described as a trouble-maker. It’s mentioned often, but honestly, I don’t see it. He seems like a pretty nice kid to me. Also, with the exception of the final twist, I guessed every major plot event as if it had been painted for me in neon colors.

Thirteen Treasures does have one huge redeeming quality–its setting. Tanya’s grandmother’s house is a run-down, sprawling mansion built two centuries ago. It has secret passageways, underground tunnels, twisting servant stairways, old paintings and furnishings, loose floorboards with hidey-holes underneath, thick ivy, and a host of resident fairy-creatures. It’s set back against the edge of Hangman’s Woods, a dangerous, thick old forest with sink holes (the Catacombs) and a mysterious past that includes multiple disappearances. It also houses plenty more fairies and an old gypsy woman gifted with second sight. It was this setting alone that build enough intrigue to keep me reading.

If you enjoy fairy stories, you may enjoy 13 Treasures. Ms. Harrison isn’t a terrible writer. Her story moves along easily, it’s creative and mysterious, and the faery lore is interesting. I mean, it did win a major award. It simply wasn’t for me.

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