Title: The 13 Treasures
Author: Michelle Harrison
Genre: Children / Fantasy
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK/ Little, Brown US
Publication date: January 2009 / April 2010
Paperback: 336 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a trilogy
While visiting her grandmother’s house, an old photograph leads Tanya to an unsolved mystery. Fifty years ago a girl vanished in the woods nearby – a girl Tanya’s grandmother will not speak of. Fabian, the caretaker’s son, is tormented by the girl’s disappearance. His grandfather was the last person to see her alive, and has lived under suspicion ever since. Together, Tanya and Fabian decide to find the truth. But Tanya has her own secret: the ability to see fairies. And, after disturbing an intruder in the night, it emerges that someone else shares her ability …The manor’s sinister history is about to repeat itself …
How did we get this book: Ana got a review copy from S&S UK and Thea bought her copy.
Why did we read this book: This book has been on our radar for ages: we love the cover, the story sounds fab, plus it got good reviews AND it won Waterstone’s Children’s book prize in 2009. We have been meaning to read it for a long long time and decided that now was the time since that the third book is coming out in the UK.
Thea: We’re both a little late on 13 Treasures, but it is a book that both of us have had our eye on and agreed to review when it first came out…two years ago. With the final book in the trilogy looming, Ana finally decided to put on her bossy-pants and declare that we would be reading this for our next joint review – and holy moly, Batman! 13 Treasures is really, really good. I was reluctant at first, because the cover and age of the protagonist seem more middle grade and the synopsis sounded very Spiderwick Chronicles – but I have never been happier to shut up, listen to dear Ana, and read. Because let me tell you, dear readers, 13 Treasures has it. You know what I mean? It is that oh-so-elusive quality that sweeps you away, that reminds you of what it feels like to fall in love with a book and become enmeshed in its magic. The it that you first felt when you read a book like Harry Potter (which might not be the most challenging or wholly original story you’ve ever read, but dang could J.K. Rowling tell you a good story). I loved this book, plain and simple.
Ana: I hate to be a smart-ass but ha, I told you so, Thea! I had this feeling this book was going to be awesome and I am so pleased to say I was not wrong. From the prologue onwards I was a goner and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough: I liked the story, the characters and the mystery. I agree with Thea that this book and this series has it and I gobbled up all three books in one go because they are a lot of fun.
On the Plot:
Thea: For as long as she can remember, Tanya has been able to see fairies. When she was a little child, her parents would laugh at her chats with what they perceived of as imaginary friends – but by the time Tanya has reached 12 years old, their knowing smiles became replaced with sharp concern. For Tanya, her ability to see fairies has been a lifelong curse, because the fairies in question are far from the glittery, benevolent pixies of cartoon popularity – in reality, fairies hate being seen, talked to, or written about, and they take out their ire on young Tanya in the form of tricks, hexes, and curses. After the latest malevolent fairy trick resulting in a destroyed room, Tanya’s mother has decided that she has had enough, and sends her to stay the summer with her grandmother in her home, the remote and crumbling Elvesden Manor. Tanya, who has never been close to her grandmother and loathes the secluded mansion, cannot believe that her break will be spent in isolation, with a grandmother that hates her, and with the groundskeeper’s weird son, Fabian, as her only companion. What Tanya discovers at Elvesden Manor and the Hangman’s Woods surrounding the estate, however, is more than enough to keep her busy all summer – a girl who disappeared 50 years ago, accusations of murder, a tangle of lies, a cursed history, and an inheritance that Tanya must be prepared for at all costs.
From a plotting and writing standpoint, 13 Treasures is reminiscent of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s The Spiderwick Chronicles, down to the family estate, the talking in riddles/rhyme, the trapped (and unaging) humans, and otherworldly dangers. That said, 13 Treasures uses familiar tropes and creatures, but in such a way that feels fresh, engaging, and completely and totally winsome. Even though I knew where the story was heading, even though I occasionally felt frustrated with Tanya’s choices (and those of her relatives before her), I was enthralled by the mystery of Tanya’s family, the legacy of the fairies, and Hangman’s Woods surrounding Elvesden Manor. There’s also a ghost story type of element, and Ms. Harrison creates a believable and totally creepy atmosphere for her young protagonists, in both the crumbling manor and the haunted woods. What else can I say? I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.
Ana: The 13 Treasures is a mystery novel at its core: about a girl who disappeared some 50 years ago and whose disappearance effectively set things in motion that long ago. It also moves the story along as the two kids try to learn more about it. But what made it stand out for me is how the setting and the details of the story are richly imagined and described. It was easy to picture the Manor and Woods as well as the different fairies. And perhaps I need to brush up on my Mystery 101 with some viewings of Agatha Christie’s Poirot on telly but I didn’t think the plot was predictable at all.
But what definitely tipped the book into awesome territory for me were the fairies and how horrible, fearsome they were. And I am a bit ashamed to say (seeing as how this is a book for children) that I was completely TERRIFIED at several parts of this book. The 13 Treasures is definitely a Book With Teeth, with a story that does not compromise in its darkness or the consequences for anybody’s actions no matter how long ago they happened.
But other than the mystery there are other aspects and themes to this story: everybody at one point or another has suffered the consequences of loving someone too much or trusting someone too much; or of hiding stuff that shouldn’t have been hidden; there is also the whole secondary plot (which I can tell you know is the main plot of the second book) of changeling trafficking (when human children are replaced by fey children) – and how both human and fey react (or not) to it.
SURE, on the downside, the story is a lit bit frustrating in the counterintuitive way that everybody keeps secrets from each other but let’s face it: lots have been done in the name of “protecting” someone you love. And since we have mentioned Harry Potter: imagine if Dumbledore had told Harry Potter the whole truth in book one. Where would be the fun in that?
On the Characters:
Thea: As with the writing and plotting, 13 Treasures stars two wonderful protagonists. As a heroine, Tanya is believable as a scared and uncertain twelve year-old girl, but also brave, resourceful and wise beyond her years. She has the perfect blend of vulnerable fallibility and strength that seen in the best heroes, complimented wonderfully by her (unwelcome) sidekick Fabian. A loner, a bit of a nerd, and completely annoying to Tanya with his nosiness and persistence, Fabian is another winning character, and I fell easily in love with the reluctant duo. The older characters of Fabian’s father and grandfather, and Tanya’s grandmother also play major roles in the book, and provide texture and background for 13 Treasures. A secret has festered in the manor’s past, defining the lives of each of these older characters and shaping their relationships. Of course, these elders have been completely daft about keeping secrets, and it is up to the younger characters to right their mistakes (naturally!).
Ana: Thea’s mention of a Secret that has shaped lives is quite to the point as it is definitely what these characters are all about: especially Warwick and Florence. The extent of the darkness and bleakness in this series is that most if not all the characters have been tortured mentally and sometimes even physically by the fairies (or as a result to their dealing with the fairies). No punches are saved and even fairies that are supposed to protect go at it in a really freaky warped way. We are definitely not in Disney anymore.
And yes, I too loved resourceful Tanya and geeky Fabian, the braveness of the duo and their awkward relationship dynamics. But it is Red, the secondary character that appears later in the story and who will stop at nothing to rescue her little brother who was taken by the fairies, who owns my soul: she is fierce and wonderful.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Thea: I loved this book. Exciting, suspenseful, even a little creepy with a good old fashioned ghost story and a darker twist on fairies, 13 Treasures is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend to younger middle grade readers and older readers alike. I cannot *wait* for the next two books to come to the US (and I’m more than a little jealous that I have to wait so long to get them).
Ana: I too loved the book and I found it more than a little creepy. And I am delighted to report that I already read books 2 and 3 and they are Totally Awesome Books as well. This trilogy is well worth a read.
Notable Quotes/Parts: The Prologue:
Even as a small child Tanya had known her grandmother’s manor to be home to many secrets. Like everyone, she had heard of the disused escape tunnels rumoured to run beneath the house. And like most children, she spent many a rainy afternoon hunting for their concealed entrances, only to meet with disappointment. By the time she had turned thirteen Tanya had long given up hope of stumbling upon one of these secret passages and had begun to question whether they existed at all.
So when the bookcase had revolved in the wall before her to reveal a narrow stone staircase leading down into musty darkness, it hadn’t altogether come as a shock. Nor, though, did it bring the delicious thrill she had so long anticipated, for the circumstances leading to its discovery were quite different from what she had imagined.
Had anyone at the manor been paying proper attention, it might have been apparent that the tunnels were being used – and had been for some time now – to access the house by somebody who had no business in doing so. But all the clues, from the radio news bulletin following the abduction to the strange slithering heard in the old servants’ staircase in the dead of the night, had been overlooked. For in isolation, none of the signs had meant much.
Now, as Tanya stood face to face with the wild-eyed intruder in the dingy cavern far beneath the house, the warnings had returned and slotted into place like a key in a lock. She did not know what she had been expecting to find – but it wasn’t this.
The girl was not much older than herself: fifteen at the most. Her green eyes belied a hardness and maturity far beyond her years. The knife strapped to her thigh held other possibilities that Tanya could not bring herself to consider, and so she forced herself to train her eyes on the tiny baby in the girl’s arms.
The child stared back at her, unblinking. What happened next turned her stomach with fear. As the baby watched her its features warped and then morphed. The tips of the ears elongated and pointed and the skin took on a greenish hue. The eyes in their entirety flooded black, as if with ink, sparkling eerily. All this in the briefest of moments before the ghoulish vision was gone – but Tanya knew what she had seen.
And so did the red-headed intruder.
‘You saw.’ Her voice was a throaty whisper.
Tanya lowered her eyes to the thing in the girl’s arms and swallowed a scream.
‘I don’t believe it,’ the girl murmured. ‘You saw. You can see them too.’
A moment of clarity and quiet understanding passed between them as the girl whispered something softly.
‘You have the second sight.’
Tanya recoiled. ‘What are you doing with that baby?’
‘Good question,’ the girl replied. ‘Sit. I’ll tell you my story. I’m sure it’s one you’ll find interesting.’
Thea: 8 – Excellent
Ana: 8 – Excellent
Reading next: The 13 Curses by Michelle Harrison