Being able to see fairies isn’t all sparkly dust and tinkly bells. Tanya has been able to see them since she was a baby, and it’s a living nightmare for her. Her parents are fed up with what they see as serious behavioral problems. And the winged creatures that visit her on moonlit nights do not bring wonder and enchantment, but threats and punishment when she doesn’t do what they want. They aren’t pretty. They aren’t nice. There’s no one Tanya can tell about them. And now, thanks to the fairies, Tanya must spend the better part of her summer at her grandmother’s house in the country. It’s anything but a summer idyll—a big, spooky, decrepit old place, with a grandma who isn’t very warm and welcoming, a mad old man living upstairs, a garden bordered by a dark forest, and tribes of fairies, goblins, and other dangerous beings just waiting to make Tanya miserable.
But this summer, a dangerous magical adventure is added to Tanya’s regularly-scheduled trouble with fairies. Part of it has to do with a girl named Red, who can also see fairies, and who is on the run from the law due to her self-appointed mission of returning changelings (children who have been swapped with fairies) to where they belong. Another part of it concerns the mystery of fourteen-year-old Morwenna Bloom, who disappeared when Tanya’s grandmother was the same age, and who turns up in the woods fifty years later, looking not a day older. Tanya’s allies are a boy named Fabian who doesn’t believe in magic, a dog named Oberon who is no smarter than the average Doberman, and a gypsy woman whom many suspect of being a witch.
She will have to do with their help, because she can’t trust the fairies. Far from having her back, they only add to her troubles. There’s the day they put a spell on her so that she can’t help repeating the last few words anybody says. There’s the time they make her hair grow rapidly and uncontrollably. There’s the book they enchant so that she can’t read it. And there’s the role the fairies played in the tragic life of one of Tanya’s ancestors, perhaps a changeling herself. It is from that ancestor that Tanya inherits the bracelet with thirteen silver charms on it, representing the thirteen treasures that divided the Seelie and Unseelie Courts of Faerie. But whatever power the charms may have, they only seem to bring sorrow and death—either to Tanya’s ancestor, or to the fairies of today. And whatever is going on in the woods around Elvesden Manor, it’s going to bring death to some, madness to others, and to someone—perhaps Tanya herself—the danger of being lost forever in the faerie realm.
In her debut novel, Michelle Harrison turns her interest in fairy lore and children’s literature to excellent use. What she writes here is not the expected novel of pretty fairies being glimpsed at the bottom of the garden, but a story of creepy mysteries, harmful magic, and lonely children in danger. Some of the not-too-friendly fairies turn out to be guardians of a sort, well-meaning but strict; others prove to be traitors with an evil plan in store for Tanya and her friends. While it’s not a very cozy place, one can hardly imagine a more suitable place to have a magical adventure than an old house full of secret passages and hidey-holes, teeming with long-held secrets, whispering voices, and strange creatures. And though Tanya has a complete adventure in this book, it is welcome news that it is only the beginning of a trilogy that continues in 13 Curses and 13 Secrets. Harrison’s other work includes a Young Adult ghost story titled Unrest.