13 Treasures, by Michelle Harrison

13 Treasures, by Michelle Harrison (Little Brown, April 12 2010, 353 pp).

13 year-old Tanya has lived her life hounded by fairies--not sweet little flowery things, but capricious and dangerous beings.

"The rules are simple," said Feathercap. "You speak of us to no one. If you continue to try, than we will continue to punish you." (p 9)

When she is packed off to stay with her grandmother, in an old house off in the English countryside, it is not just the prospect of boredom and loneliness that she dreads--it is superabundance of fairies that live there, filling not only the garden and the forest beyond, but the house itself. Fairies who have made her life a misery of annoyance every time she's visited her grandmother.

But this visit, there is more than annoyance waiting for Tanya.

The woods around the house are out of bounds--years ago, a girl was lost in them and never found, and mysterious dangers still fill them. Tanya and Fabian, the son of the caretaker with whom she is gradually becoming good friends, become obsessed with the story of the lost girl. To solve the mystery of her disappearance, they brave the disapproval of Tanya's formidable grandmother and the threatening fairy folk, exploring the hidden passageways of the old house and venturing into the dark woods.

They are not entirely without help in their quest. There are 13 treasures hanging on a charm bracelet that's been passed down through generations of Tanya's family, that seem more than just a chance collection of trinkets. An old Gypsy woman gives Tanya a strange compass, that likewise has more to it than meets the eyes. And not all fairies are entirely bad.

13 Treasures won the prestigious Waterstone Prize when it came out in the UK last year, and it's clear why it was chosen. It's a dense and fascinating story, a bit slow to start, perhaps, but a page-turner once it gets going, satisfyingly dark and mysterious. I'd particularly recommend this to kids who loved The Spiderwick Chronicles, and are ready for something with a bit more heft.

Although I myself enjoyed the book, for the most part, I found some aspects of the plot unsatisfying (although it's possible that this might partly be my own fault for reading Too Fast, as is my wont). A few loose ends, I felt, were tied too abruptly, and there were other (relatively minor) bits that remained confusing, and bits that remained unresolved--it cries for a sequel. Which, fortunately, is already out in the UK (The Thirteen Curses).

And speaking of which, the US edition is not identical to the UK version (for one thing, the UK title is The Thirteen Treasures). From an interview with the author, Michelle Harrison, at Beyond Books:

"Aside from the cover there aren’t too many differences. The most notable was that in the US edition the prologue was cut. The other two biggest things were that the treatment of Brunswick, the goblin, at the hands of his companions was toned down a little to be less violent. There’s also the mention of a suicide in the UK edition that was cut for the US. Other than that it was the general small things, like changing ‘pavement’ to ‘side walk’ for a US audience."

Hmph. You would think that after publishers realized that Americans could handle the British words in Harry Potter they would stop doing this to us! Maybe we really want to be able to believe the book is taking place in England....and walk, as it were, on the "pavements" of the exotic other....sigh.

And now I am dying to know who committed suicide! Bother.

A few other reviews at Kids Lit, and Wondrous Reads.

(disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher at ALA midwinter)


  1. Ugh, I didn't know about all of the changes from the UK version. That completely bites!

  2. Thanks for the review. That's weird that they felt they had to change it so much for us.

  3. After Michelle told me of the changes to the book, I am even more thrilled that I bought the UK version last year! I am always frustrated when they change language/words in books to make them more "American". It's sort of an insult to North Americans really, like we can't deal with different spelling or something. *eye roll*

    Thanks for the link!!

  4. Oh! I have this one next in my TBR pile and your review is making me want to skip through what I have left to get right to it! Too bad they had to change the wording, just weird!

  5. The sequel is out already in the UK--I am thinking of getting it straight from there, via the book depostiry, so as to get the original version of that one, at least...

  6. Yes! Yes! Get The 13 Curses from the Book Depository! It was just as brilliant as 13 Treasures. :) Also, free shipping!

  7. You have taught me (and everyone) so much about fantasy books, and now, with trepidation, I am writing one. Thank you for keeping all the best books before us (and for calling publishers on making changes that most likely shouldn't make).

  8. Beth, that is such exciting news I had to squee about it in my weekly roundup post!


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