Better known by his The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, Irish author Michael Scott teams up with playwright Colette Freedman to deliver an interesting mix between fantasy and thriller set in modern-day London where an unsuspecting young woman finds herself in the middle of a plot to break open the gates of hell and unleash demons that had been thousands of years ago been sealed away by a reflection of Jesus Christ himself.
The Thirteen Hallows has a slow, yet interesting start: It begins by telling us of a crime (an assassination, to be precise) where an old lady got tortured to death with a young woman who tried to help her also getting killed. More than being an integral part of the plot, it sets the table for the wave of murders that start happening over Britain where old people die under strange circumstances – Being a nationwide issue that only targets a few old people; most of them seem to be freak, isolated accidents and nothing else. Judith Walker, however, knows what’s going on: Somebody’s taken it to murdering the keepers of the Thirteen Hallows of Britain and it’ll be only a matter of time before she herself gets killed by the mysterious murderer.
However, when a group of men attempt to mug her in order to get the hallow she’s been keeping – None other than Dyrnwyn, the sword once held by Rhydderch Hael – A young woman, Sarah Miller, almost unexpectedly comes to her aid and drives the muggers away. From this moment on, Sarah’s life takes a turn as she quickly finds herself tangled in the conspiracy to get the hallows and eventually becomes the only person keeping a certain dark plan from happening.
The novel itself presents a premise that, though simple, doesn’t really disappoint: Though sometimes hard to tell if this is a proper fantasy novel, a crime novel or a horror thriller, the novel keeps itself together amazingly well through its whole length, delivering an experience that’s fulfilling even when pretty hard to catalogue. With a reduced cast of characters (The main cast doesn’t reach ten characters), it presents a tale where it is actually hard to get lost since, even when the characters are separated in three/four groups, they are few and appear often enough to make it very hard for the reader to forget about them.
Another point where the novel actually does it right is on its chapter structure – there are over a hundred chapters in this novel, most of them being just a few pages long, which helps both people with short attention spans and people who might not have a lot of time available keep reading without needing to stop reading mid-chapter, something most readers (This one included) find rather annoying.
As for the story itself, it is original yet not groundbreaking: During most of the book we accompany Sarah, a main character that, though not unlikeable, feels a little too plain during most of the book, something that weighs down the overall narration a little bit by having most of the book being told by a character that, as it is, lacks characterization. To make matters worse, the lack of characterization is found in most of the characters, or at least in most of the characters on the “good” side of the spectrum – The Thirteen Hallows seems to have much better developed evil characters than good ones. Nevertheless, the story holds on just well enough though the inevitability of the events is a bit heavy at times: Due to the mentioned lack of characterization, sometimes it feels as if the characters are on rails, just following a script, rather than living in a world and making decisions by themselves.
Perhaps the biggest achievement in this book, however, is the same achievement that made The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel shine so brightly: The at times perfect blend between ancient culture and a modern world, a seamless mix that seems so hard to get done at some points yet one that Scott seems to have perfected. The whole storyline in this book is indeed full of references to ancient myths, stories, items and characters that serve to flesh it out and make it seem almost possible.
All in all, The Thirteen Hallows is a good, if a bit underwhelming attempt at making ancient myths come to life in the present world in almost the same vein as Scott’s most well-known literary series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. However, The Thirteen Hallows suffers from a lack of something to keep everything together making an interesting, rich storyline seem at times hollow and the all-too-disjointed narrative coupled up with poorly developed characters keep it from becoming an excellent read, making it instead a decent one. If you’re interested in seeing how ancient cultures and their beliefs could be affecting our current world then, by all means, read this book. If you loved Scott’s previous books, then you might also enjoy this. However, if you’re looking for a new fantasy book that can keep you enthralled and build a whole, interesting world around you, this probably isn’t it – Go for The Alchemyst, by the same author, instead.
A last note – this book isn’t really meant to be a children’s book and it has more than a few sex scenes in it – Said scenes, though not too graphical, are common enough to possibly bother some of the more prudish readers and certainly make the book unsuitable for children when paired with its dark overall theme.
Final review rating: 3.5/5
Availability: The book is currently available on physical and digital form from Amazon.com
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