The 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison is the tale of Tanya, a girl who has the ability to see fairies. After one too many misdemeanours, she is sent to spend the summer at her grandmother's house. In Tanya's mind this is an awful punishment, since her grandmother has never seemed to like her, and it means having to see Fabian, the caretaker's son. Over the course of the summer, Tanya and Fabian stumble upon a dark secret, an unsolved mystery spanning back decades. Soon they are facing terrible danger, and it is simply a question of who will survive...
I consider myself incredibly lucky. This book wasn't even on my radar, despite some glowing reviews, when Simon & Schuster sent it through to me. Thanks to them, I've had my eyes opened to a truly thrilling world of the Sidhe courts and mysteries unsolved.
This a beautifully dark little book. I often find myself sceptical about fairies - they seem so do-goody and Tinkerbell-esque, in the most part. In this case, however, Harrison has tapped into folklore and scary fairytales to present us with fairies that have bite. They steal children, commit mischief and cause mayhem on a whim. They are not friendly, or pretty - and I love them all the more for it. The fairy characters in this book truly leap from the pages.
They are not alone in that respect. Harrison writes her human characters just as well - Tanya is resourceful and courageous; Fabian is geeky and intelligent; Red is punky and perfect (seriously want to be reading more about her in the next two books!) Their voices are distinct and they felt fully-fleshed.
At first I found Harrison's prose fairly perfunctory, but it developed well over the course of the novel. This story takes place in the summer and, despite reading it in the cold of winter, I could almost feel the humid darkness of a stormy summer evening. It was beautifully done.
This is a really timeless little book. It has echoes of Enid Blyton, what with the secret tunnels and the planning for adventures in a nearby woodland, and reminded me a little of the Carbonel series by Barbara Sleigh (another children's novel where the magic and mundane collide). I feel as though The 13 Treasures could be picked up and enjoyed by children in years to come, thanks to the ageless feel of the story.
It could be argued that the adults in this novel were poorly presented, what with the secrets that they hid from Tanya, but I suspect they shall come into their own in future books - particularly Warwick. It would be incredibly nit-picky to suggest that this spoilt the story at all for me.
As it is, I can say that I enjoyed this book a great deal. It was easy to read, with a fascinating and mysterious story, peopled by warm and realistic characters. Very much recommended.