By Michelle Harrison
Published by Simon & Schuster
ISBN 978 1 84738 449 2
Tanya is a young teen who has an unusual problem. She can see fairies. But there is nothing cute and Tinker Bell-like about the fairies that turn up when Tanya is asleep or alone. These little winged creatures who invade her life are nasty tiny beasts. They torment Tanya, get her in trouble and generally make her life miserable. They are unpleasant, mischievous and malicious.
Nobody will listen, and nobody offers to help because they simply do not believe her. Her mother is at her wit's end and doesn't know what to do about her daughter's mood swings and odd behaviour. It was easy to talk about fairies when she was a small child, but Tanya is in her early teens and her family and friends don't have the patience for such stories.
Tanya is constantly bullied and harassed by the magical creatures wherever she goes. She needs help.
At the beginning of The 13 Treasures, Michelle Harrison sets up a tricky situation that needs careful handling. Fairies are not the easiest of fantasy creatures to bring into a novel for teens because of their childish associations. Think of the Tooth Fairy that brings gifts when children lose their first tooth, or Cinderella's fairy godmother. It takes a clever and imaginative writer to find a way to make them work for young adults.
Harrison is sure-footed in the way she sets up The 13 Treasures, ensuring there is nothing remotely childish about her fairies. She is also clever enough to centre her debut novel on an intriguing mystery that keeps readers turning the pages.
At the start of the novel, Tanya is packed to go stay with her grandmother. Grandma lives in an ancient mansion in the woods well away from the city. There are rumours of strange events in the woods, and Tanya hears about secret underground passages beneath the house. Fifty years ago, a young girl vanished from the nearby village and has never been found.
Tanya's grandmother is still troubled by the girl's disappearance, and knows more about the mystery than she is saying. Fabian, the young son of the caretaker, is also keeping secrets from Tanya. The boy's grandfather was the last person to see the missing girl, and he has been suspected of being involved in the disappearance. This has driven the old man slightly crazy. The moment Tanya steps through the door of her grandmother's mansion, it is clear things are going to get worse, not better, for her.
The 13 Treasures is an atmospheric mystery and a tale of mean beings, and Harrison mixes these two elements very well. Her spooky descriptions of the old house and the surrounding forest are chillingly effective. The writing is kept tight, and the characters and action are believable, with an air of danger on every page. This is an assured first novel from a new writer who is definitely one to watch.
John Millen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org