Review of The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott
The Thirteen Hallows
by Michael Scott
I probably shouldn’t have read this, considering how little time I had left to get through these library books. I probably should have skipped in favour of a book I was more confident I could enjoy. But I think I needed this—I needed something that’s just so bad I could sit back and bask in its badness for a bit. The Thirteen Hallows certainly satisfied me in that regard.
All the warning signs are clearly there. There’s the cover—and no, one shouldn’t judge a book solely by the cover, but the cover can give good indications about target audiences and the like. This one is abysmally generic, more akin to a mystery thriller than epic urban fantasy. That did not leave me with much hope for the tone of this adventure.
Indeed, the writing quickly confirmed my fears. The prose is turgid in its use of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives (“darkly crimson” as one example). The protagonist named on the back cover doesn’t appear until page 30. I can understand not starting immediately with the protagonist, but that seems excessive. Though, from the opening lines, I can understand why Sarah’s debut is delayed:
Sarah Miller had never done anything extraordinary in her life.
At twenty-two, Sarah still had dreams of greatness.
So Sarah is boring and pedestrian, eh? Sounds like a great protagonist! I’m so very interested in the book now.
Clearly the authors are trying to depict Sarah as a “normal” twenty-two-year-old before she becomes mixed up in this mythological mystery. I think the second sentence is supposed to mean, “She’s young, so she still thinks she can change the world”—a kind of wink/nod to the presumably older audience who is reading this. This is where being aware of the juxtaposition of sentences comes in handy, because when it follows that first sentence, it undermines that effect. It trips my sarcasm meter, and I retort, “She’s only twenty-two! Plenty of time left for dreams and extraordinary deeds.”
Unfortunately, Sarah isn’t a very interesting character. I sympathize with her, not for being swept up in the circumstances she’s in but for being trapped in such a terrible book.
The plot is a race against time. The bad guy is looking to collect all thirteen Hallows of Great Britain so that he can use them on Halloween (get it?) to unlock the gates keeping demons out of the world. He believes this will lead to some kind of personal apotheosis; I think he is crazy to think the demons aren’t going to eat him. But that’s generic villains for you.
Sarah inadvertently becomes mixed up in this plot when she befriends Judith Walker, keeper of the Broken Sword. Judith entrusts the sword to Sarah’s safekeeping, telling her to give it to Judith’s nephew, Owen. Sarah and Owen meet, team up, hook up, and go to Wales together to face down the bad guy and save the world.
There’s an author’s note at the end that mentions that the Hallows are actual, real objects with historical pedigrees—and they are. Mind you, they aren’t necessarily two-thousand-year-old artifacts imbued with magic by Jesus. (I particularly wonder how Scott and Freedman square the chessboard with this story, when chess was invented circa 6 century.) And that’s what annoys me … I don’t mind if authors use historical artifacts as part of a vastly fictious tale; nor do I mind if they make up artifacts instead. It seems to me like if you’re going to go to the trouble of using something real, though, you might as well hew as closely to the truth as possible and derive interesting consequences from that.
Instead, we have a freaky demon portal story that only makes sense if you look at it sideways on All Hallows Eve. Why are the demons coming through portals in Britain and not, say, Judea? Why does Ambrose give out the artifacts to a bunch of children? Wouldn’t that leave the artifacts very vulnerable to bad guys until the children grow up?
Let’s give the benefit of a doubt, though, and say that the premise is an interesting and worthy idea for a story. What of the story itself? It could be thrilling, except … oh, my. Where do I begin?
We’ve got a pair of cops who are on Sarah’s trail for multiple murders with the magic sword. They are just barely competent yet somehow never manage to catch her. It would be a lot more believable if they had caught her at some point and she had escaped or co-opted them. As it is, they are dead weight.
Scott and Freedman handle exposition is the most clunky, least interesting way they possibly could. Every once in a while, the action stops so that Sarah and Owen can sit down with a wiser character and listen them expound on things these two need to know (first it’s Brigid, then Ambrose). Meanwhile, we get subjected to numerous scenes of the bad guys gnashing their teeth and going, “Raaawr, we can’t find them in the Astral [plane]!” It would be funny if it weren’t so boring.
Strictly speaking, this is a book. It is a story, with a plot, and characters. But there are just so many better examples of books out there, that this one is hardly worth the time it takes to slog through it.