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Sunday, January 24, 2010
Author: Michelle Harrison
Reviewed Format: UK paperback
Release Date: January 7, 2010
Tanya has discarded the charm bracelet that reminds her of the previous summer’s nightmare from The Thirteen Treasures. Burdened with bad memories, the bracelet is left on Florence’s kitchen table while Tanya (back at her grandmother’s house for mid-term vacations) and Fabian venture into Hangman’s Wood to return Mad Morag’s magical compass. It belongs with her now that, as promised, it no longer works for the children. As the duo enters the woods, the bracelet, alone on the table, reminds the reader of the strange power it has over these character’s lives as it accidentally trades owners. It ties the seemingly disparate narratives of Tanya’s story in The Thirteen Treasures and Rowan Fox’s in it sequel, The Thirteen Curses.
The charm bracelet was the biggest disappointment of the first book. It served to set up a potential storyline that fell flat and did not appear. The weird magic of the bracelet would, presumably, have to wait for another book. The cover then, was a little misleading--surely the thirteen charms would have some significance, surely they’re somehow important. But still, the bracelet remained in the background, never really to be thought of and I had to wonder: what does the bracelet have to do with a story about a young girl unravelling the mystery of an old murder? The answer now still puzzles me--it didn’t have anything to do with a murder, but now that it’s been introduced, gives meaning to Red’s mission as she becomes the new temporary owner.
Like ownership, perspective changes for The Thirteen Curses to heavily favor Red. The novel opens with a prologue returning to the tragic events of the summer before--Red saving Tanya by giving herself in the younger girl’s place, breaking the pact Morwenna Bloom made with Florence. Sure that the traumatic adventures are over, Tanya and Fabian think nothing of venturing into the woods alone, but when Warwick nearly catches them, they think twice and go back home only to get caught up in even more dangerous turn of events. Red’s sacrifice wasn’t as altruistic as Tania and Fabian first assumed--she’s gone into the Fairy realm to find her brother James and bring him back. On the way, she discovers new people, frightening creatures, hard lessons, and more about her past than she ever would have imagined.
At first, the narrative bounces between Tanya and Red--something I didn’t mind; Red was introduced late in The Thirteen Treasures and remained a bit of a mystery. Under the pretense of relating her story to Warwick, the narrative shifts to flashbacks of Red’s life in the months leading up to her time hidden in the passages under Elvesden Manor: she and little James were orphaned and doomed to an orphanage (it’s not Dickensian by any stretch of the imagination, but who would ever want to stay in an orphanage?) and the constant reminder that their parents are gone. To win trust, Red swaps her story with Warwick--not only do we get a brief history of all that’s vitally significant to Red, but we also get to know Warwick’s past better. This, I liked. Warwick was never more than a revelation in The Thirteen Treasures and I wanted to know more about him.
The first two thirds of the book are taken up with these flashbacks. Red and Warwick travel the Fairy Realm in search of the Seelie Court at Avalon and it feels as if Harrison has improved her pacing and, for whatever reason, discarded the bracelet. However, from the moment Red is given her quest, those assumptions were proven very wrong. Not only does the bracelet become an integral part of the plot, but the steady pace of events becomes very rushed. The last third of the book (about 150 pages) is spent trying to find 13 separate charms that could have, like Harry Potter and the horcruxes, taken an entirely new book to fill. I’m still confused why Harrison rushed the titular event in the last third of the book (and spent a book and a half with set-up)--it really separates the two installments into very different stories that coincidentally have a bracelet and some characters in common. The relationship that ties the two books is weaker than I would have liked.
While the structure left something to be desired and, unfortunately, rendered the bracelet into something of an afterthought when it’s clear that was not Harrison’s intention, I did really, really enjoy this book. I got what I wished for: a bit more Fabian who, to his credit, wasn’t nearly as fussy and was in fact, quite brave. Oberon was as sweet and plump as ever; Tania gracefully stepped to the side and let Rowan take a turn in the spotlight, even if I did begin to get a little tired of her (understandably) bitter attitude toward everything and everyone. She snapped a lot and lost her patience, but it’s in her personality to do so. She’s naturally inclined to be fiery and passionate, just as Fabian is a bit bumbling and prone to tears and whining as he worried, frightened, over his missing father. To be short: Harrison dealt very well with her character’s personalities.
Aside from learning more about Red and Warwick, and seeing more Fabian, I was impressed with Harrison’s penchant for the disturbing and talent for infusing her Fairy world with such menacing threats and bleak, desperate undertones. With such a strong emphasis on the cruelty and uncertainty of the Hedgewitch I was shocked she didn’t just get right back up and overwhelm Red and her other captives with her dark magic. I wanted her to have more fight! She’s a mean, nasty woman and really, what more was there for me to see (dead animals, caged animals, lures for humans, discarded body parts, and grotesque glamours)? I wanted to have a bad character to root for and unfortunately, it wasn’t the Hedgewitch, just time and the natural course of events that turned into Red’s true adversary. I appreciated the Hedgewitch as an evil character too much and, despite her selfishness and lack of compassion, would have liked to see her live just a little bit longer.
I was entertained by some of the magical conventions Harrison invented for her fantasy: a book with enchanted letters that can crawl and rearrange themselves on the page; a fox skin coat with transformative abilities; a medicinal reprieve for the Second Sight-impaired; twine that makes you think twice about walking through spiderwebs. To help with her world-building, Harrison also illustrated the beautiful drawings at the start of every chapter (most of them; chapters dedicated to flashbacks were sadly, barren of art). Some of the charms were rendered in these illustrations and I now know what a drain-dweller looks like (not as disgusting as I imagined, but still unpleasant). And despite my disappointment with the structure, fell into the story anyway: ultimately, altruism wins and Red learns she can’t escape her responsibilities.
I did think the narrative voice was a little untrustworthy in a couple of spots. In particular, when Red brandishes a key after 50 pages of leading Warwick and us (the text, from her point of view, tell us her search was failing) on and also when her later declaration defending her decision to delay treatment for Morag betrays her narrative thoughts (and selfish action) on the matter: to put it off purposely to get information that would help her find James faster. Nevermind that Morag is in pain--Red’s needs are greater. This bothers me only because how am I, as a reader, supposed to sympathize with a character who might change her mind without telling me--one who has already established herself to be trustworthy? If Red were a liar from the start, it wouldn’t matter. But I invested so much time reading her story (both present and history through flashbacks) and hoping that she would find James that these two actions screamed selfish and mean and I did not like her for them.
If I sound put off, I am, but only a little. I’m frustrated because now, while I can guess what might happen in the next book (maybe more about Rose and Elizabeth?), I’m not sure if what does happen will get the attention I think it deserves, or if it will be rushed through after a long (but interesting) set-up. I want to see more from Michelle Harrison--she has a great imagination and I’m eager to see where her talent continues to take her. I’ve become invested in Fabian, Tanya, and Rowan (even Oberon!). I could never let anything get in the way of finding out what their next adventure is. Thank you Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy! I’m having fun seeing where this story goes.
How many Jawas recommend this book?
The US edition of The Thirteen Treasures is out in hardcover April 12!