Friday, August 23, 2013

13 Curses

13 Curses
by Michelle Harrison
Recommended Ages: 12+

In 13 Treasures, a silver bracelet strung with thirteen charms serves mainly as a link between twelve-year-old Tanya and a tragically short-lived ancestor who shared her gift, her curse: the second sight, or the ability to see faeries. But other than that, the book wasn't really about the thirteen magical objects that gave it its name. The treasures were then little more than a talisman representing the harsh reality of dealing with faeries. Faeries persecute people who can see them. They have no morals, no compassion, no limits on their behavior but a twisted sense of fair-play. They steal human children, sometimes swapping them with faerie substitutes (changelings) that only look human while their glamour lasts. And if you think the Seelie Court faeries who rule over the seasons of spring and summer are a rough crowd, just wait until Samhain (Halloween) when the Unseelie Court takes over for the fall and winter.

In this sequel, Tanya comes back to spend the October holidays at her grandmother's rambling rural estate of Elvesden, near the Essex market town of Tickey End. And so she gets to be a part of an adventure in which the charm-bracelet is much more central. If her summer was perilous and dark, the weeks leading up to Samhain will be even more so. For when she was last at Elvesden, another girl—calling herself Red, but really named Rowan—took Tanya's place in a magical trap and was swept into the faerie realm. And now Warwick, grandmother Florence's trusted caretaker and the father of Tanya's friend Fabian, has been swept up after her. Brought together by an evil witch, Red and Warwick travel to the faerie court of Avalon (parallel to our world's Glastonbury) to bargain for the return of Red's faerie-napped brother James and their return to the human realm. Since they make it to Avalon just in time for the changeover from Seelie to Unseelie, their bargain must be struck with both courts. And that is why, as the price for getting James back, Red must search the real world for the lost charms from Tanya's bracelet, while Warwick remains a hostage. If Red fails, none of them will ever go home.

Naturally, Tanya and Fabian instantly agree to help Red with her quest, even though Fabian lacks the two girls' gift of the second sight. But the search for the tiny silver charms becomes increasingly dangerous, because each charm is impregnated with an evil, upside-down form of the magic it represents. The blood-dripping dagger that can heal any wound causes, instead, a wound that will not heal. The staff of strength becomes a point of weakness in the walls of a crumbling building. A candle of light gives off radiant darkness. A sword of victory gives off feelings of defeat. Even the platter of plenty turns an ordinary dog-food dish into a potentially deadly over-abundance of food. Each time the kids find one of the charms, and neutralize its curse-like power by re-attaching it to the bracelet, the power of the next curse grows stronger and more difficult to overcome... until, finally, Red realizes that the faeries have rigged the game so that she cannot win.

The outcome is a decision so heartbreaking that almost any reader must be moved. The whole story, drawn from its author's study of faerie lore, is a bracing reminder of what faeries and their magic were originally like—not the sweet, cute, innocent beings whose flight is accompanied by jingling bells and a trail of sparkly dust, but deceptive, dangerous creatures. Adventures with them may be darker than you expect, more tinged with sadness and horror—but perhaps more thrilling too. And this adventure is not altogether over. The trilogy concludes with 13 Secrets.

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