The Thirteen Hallows
by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman
Tor Books, December 2011
[box] The Hallows. Ancient artifacts imbued with a primal and deadly power. But are they protectors of this world, or the keys to its destruction?
A gruesome murder in London reveals a sinister plot to uncover a two-thousand-year-old secret.
For decades, the Keepers guarded these Hallows, keeping them safe and hidden and apart from each other. But now the Keepers are being brutally murdered, their prizes stolen, the ancient objects bathed in their blood.
Now, only a few remain.
With her dying breath, one of the Keepers convinces Sarah Miller, a practical stranger, to deliver her Hallow—a broken sword with devastating powers—to her American nephew, Owen.
The duo quickly become suspects in a series of murders as they are chased by both the police and the sadistic Dark Man and his nubile mistress.
As Sarah and Owen search for the surviving Keepers, they unravel the deadly secret the Keepers were charged to protect. The mystery leads Sarah and Owen on a cat-and-mouse chase through England and Wales, and history itself, as they discover that the sword may be the only thing standing between the world… and a horror beyond imagining.
The Thirteen Hallows is the beginning of a spellbinding new saga, a thrilling tale of ancient magic and modern times by a New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning playwright.[/box]
A couple of summers ago my oldest daughter, now 14, discovered a great Harry Potter spin-off series written by Michael Scott called Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (Flamel, if you recall, was the sorcerer who created the sorcerer’s stone in the first Harry Potter book).
When I saw this new release called the Thirteen Hallows written by the same author I picked it up for her at the library, thinking it was a continuation of the series. She was busy reading Catching Fire at the time, so it sat on the shelf for a few days. They say Spiderman has ‘Spidey’ sense — well I must have ’Mommy’ sense, because something kept telling me to read it before she got to it. Never one to ignore those little jabs of intuition, I started reading and realized by page 32, when the two main baddies were having pagan ritual sex atop a stolen church altar, that this was not the book for her. Now, what does it say about me that I kept reading it? Let’s just move on.
In The Thirteen Hallows, which, by the way, was never marketed as a YA novel, Scott stepped away from his popular series and developed a new one for grown-ups who happen to love the arcane and mythical. Not linked to Harry Potter in any way, the Hallows in this story are keys to the thirteen locks that control a portal to an astral plane populated by demons that have a taste for human flesh.
The story has a terrific premise, taking elements of Christianity and interlacing them with pagan beliefs and Celtic lore, then weaving the whole into a modern-day horror story. One of Scott’s strengths is a vast knowledge of Celtic lore, and the esoteric knowledge he incorporates throughout is intriguing. The main plot has some very controversial ideas, and the result is thought provoking, but is not for the Sunday school set, shall we say. (That’s assuming they’d make it past page 32.)
Pacing is lighting quick as Sarah Miller, a somewhat mousy, put-upon young woman gets caught up in the conflict by saving a Keeper of one of the Hallows, in this case the Sword of Dyrnwn, from an attacker. It turns out Sarah is not quite so mousy after all. Transformed by sword and circumstance into a raging female warrior, she will have you cheering her on as she disembowels and beheads her way through various bad guys who keep coming after the Hallows — did I mention it’s pretty gory?
Scott’s writing is at its best when he’s in action mode. Settings are vivid and darkly moody, the carnage visceral. Sometimes it felt like I was reading it the same way I’d watch a horror movie – peeking between my fingers. It’s bloody, but not in an overly gratuitous way. The storyline remains strong most of the time, and plot points are introduced in a series of flashbacks that help broaden the story and pique the reader’s interest.
Where it falls apart a little is in its characters. They are intriguing when Scott takes his time constructing their background, as he does with Sarah and the main bad guy, a wizard named Ahriman. When he doesn’t it’s disappointing and I found myself not caring much about them. Owen is one of the heroes of the story, but so little is mentioned about him that I found him forgettable. And Sarah, the main character for much of the story, doesn’t have anything to do by the end of the book.
I also found the dialog to be a bit sketchy. Scott seems to suffer from the same problem as the Star Wars creator George Lucas: he’s come up with a fantastic story, but the dialog for his characters is often awkward and immature. At a crucial point the evil Ahriman is fighting it out with Owen for the sword so he can unleash hordes of demons. As these two are locked in mortal battle, the scene should be exhilarating, but instead it plays out like this:
Ahriman: “You should be honored: The beasts will feed on you first.”
‘No’ and ‘yes’? For this caliber of storytelling, I hoped for something a wee bit more thrilling.
There’s a great plot, lots of action, and good pacing, but toward the end it seems like the authors wanted to wrap it up too quickly, leaving the climax feeling a little flat. It lacks the big payoff I was hoping for.
Nagging aside, I still enjoyed the book. It’s a classic Cinderella tale in that two ordinary people find out that they are not so ordinary and are drawn out of their daily rut into pathos and adventure. The elements of a great story are there, and with such an interesting plot, the Thirteen Hallows is the beginning of what has the potential to be a great series.
More from Michael Scott:
- Review: The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman (underwordsblog.com)
- Book Review: The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Friedman (writer.fitzhome.com)
- Interview with Michael Scott & Colette Freedman, coauthors of The Thirteen Hallows (underwordsblog.com)
- Book Review: The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Friedman (blogcritics.org)