The Thirteen Hallows, the first book in a new, much-hyped fantasy series from playwright Colette Freedman and Michael Scott (author of the Nicholas Flamel children’s series), rattles along for 350 pages like it has squares for wheels and an old, rusty engine. Technically, it gets where it needs to go, but the journey is mostly bumpy, and everything feels put together wrong. There are some intriguing ideas—the central premise of building a Da Vinci Code-style fantasy around the Celtic “13 treasures of Britain” isn’t bad—but the book accumulates characters like lint, and its plotting lurches haphazardly from one thing to another.
There’s an odd serial killer working through Britain. The killer seems to only murder people over 70, in the bloodiest way possible. On the other hand, the only person even aware of this killer is another septuagenarian, children’s-book author Judith Walker, who happens to know that the victims are linked because when they were children, a strange old man chose them as the “hallowed keepers” who bear the 13 hallows, which are all that stand between humanity and a gruesome fate at the hands of demons. Judith herself is a hallowed keeper, and she knows the killer will soon be on her tail. As she attempts to evade her doom, she crosses paths with directionless twentysomething Sarah Miller, ultimately passing along her hallow to Sarah, and asking her to bring it to nephew Owen Walker. From there, Sarah and Owen are on the usual race against time to prevent the end of the world.
Hallows is certainly propulsive. There isn’t much structure—the story just describes a collection of events—but there’s always something exciting happening or about to happen, and Scott and Freedman pepper the book with mini-cliffhangers that keep readers turning pages. All of the characters seem purchased at a secondhand store, and the book has a distressing habit of describing an entire backstory the first time each character is introduced, as if Freedman and Scott wrote out complicated character bios but felt frustrated no one would get to see all of that hard work. The cast is mostly just a series of vehicles for the story anyway, and when the plot focuses on Sarah and Owen, it has a sort of daft energy that keeps things humming along.
Problem is, the story also tries to rope in the police officers hot on the heroes’ trail, the many different killers trying to bring them down, a mysterious old man, and the people behind the plot to unleash demons upon the world, among many others. Frequently, a flashback offers the backstory of the hallows and their creation. The identity of the historical figure who created the hallows is meant to be dramatic, but comes off as utterly ridiculous.
There’s nothing wholly objectionable about Hallows, and it goes down easily enough, but it isn’t an exciting or challenging read. It simply gallops along without showing off, except when it tosses in copious amounts of gore or sex, seemingly out of nowhere. If there’s yet another great book to be written about ancient magicks unleashed in a modern world, it’ll have to wait longer to come out. Thirteen Hallows is flat and unnecessary.