One Wish by Michelle Harrison

Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for June was one that I’d been looking forward to for a while. I read Michelle’s Thirteen Treasures trilogy in my first year as a bookseller (The misty mists of 2010), and absolutely adored them for their degree of Spiderwick Chronicles charm, dark, unsettling fantasy, and celebration of English folklore and the countryside that spawned it. Then I read Unrest, her first book aimed at an older age bracket (it’s in your local Teen section, hopefully), and was once again wrapped in mystery, history and chills in a Woman in Black inspired horror novel (perfect for fans of James Dawson’s Say Her Name). So when I found out she was releasing a new book, after quite a long break away from writing (something about having a baby… What an excuse!), and that it was going to be a prequel to her original trilogy, I was so very excited…

The jacket belies some of the darker twists in this book!

The jacket belies some of the darker twists in this book!

Tanya Fairchild has always been able to see fairies. All her life, she’s seen them, but it isn’t the perfect childhood dream that most little girls might dream of. Fairies are mean spirited, full of tricks and pranks that have hampered her whole life, and without her parents being able to see them, or anyone else she knows for that matter, she can’t talk to anyone without looking completely crazy. The fairies seem to leave her alone if she doesn’t try to talk about them to others, so for so many years, she gets by not mentioning them, trying to cover up the tricks they play before she gets accused of anything. After her parents divorced, Tanya and her mother decide to take a trip to the countryside to try and forget things for a few weeks, and whilst they’re holidaying in the sleepy seaside town of Spinney Wicket, Tanya discovers a whole new world of the Fae, fairies and their kin, and she meets Ratty. Henry Hanratty is a boy around her age, who travels up and down the country with his father, living a nomad life in their camper – and he can see fairies. Meeting someone else who has the Second Sight is a huge revelation to Tanya, and he seems to know everything about the Fae world. He even has a friendly fairy (though only friendly to him), a one-winged guardian called Turpin. The two of them become fast friends, until Ratty’s father fails to return home one night. And then some strange creatures whisk Ratty away before Tanya’s very eyes, leaving her and the difficult, magicless Turpin to solve a mystery that stretches back in time, and through the Fey world and our own – a mystery of missing memories, imagination and life and death itself.

The new jackets for the Treasures Trilogy are lovely - I'm a fan of the fox costume.

The new jackets for the Treasures Trilogy are lovely – I’m a fan of the fox costume.

One Wish picks up the tone of the Thirteen Treasures trilogy and continues it perfectly, as if there’d never been a break in them at all. Tanya is a brilliantly bright protagonist, intelligent and curious, with a good sense of adventure, but balanced by a level head, and through her uncover of the Fey world, the reader gets to learn things along with her. She’s tenacious and determined, and her dedication to her friends makes her so much fun as a main character. Turpin is brilliant, probably my favourite character in the book, with her sullen, child-like ways, and her glee in petty mischief and the misfortune of others – but she has heart, amongst it all. She’s slow to trust, but those she does trust are protected by her with her life, and she can be incredibly selfless when she chooses to be. Solomon makes a great villain, an equal balance of determined drive with a genuinely noble (if misguided) cause that makes him sympathetic instead of a standard bad-guy caricature. It’s Morghul who gives the story its real malevolence, emerging from Ratty’s subconscious like some kind of childhood nightmare brought into the flesh. His faceless, unstoppable form makes him genuinely terrifying…

It’s good to see that Michelle hasn’t lost her ability to create worlds with humour, horror and adventure, and the chase across the river is a particularly stand out moment for me, with page-gripping action, and a relentless horror on their heels. I couldn’t read fast enough.

One Wish is a brilliant summer read, a brilliantly fun, engaging story full of classic English folklore, tension and friendship. I strongly recommend reading it whilst sat under a tree.

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Unrest by Michelle Harrison

So I read Michelle’s Thirteen books (13 Treasures/Curses/Secrets) a while ago, and found them brilliant new twists and turns on a classic fairytale feel, and very much full of English charm and humour, so when I found out she was penning a Ghost Story for Young Adults, I had to grab a copy (big thanks to Phil Earle for sending me one so late!). I’m a huge huge fan of Ghost Stories, as I mentioned in my post for Long Lankin, so really this one was a no brainer…

Unrest has a really chilling jacket.

Elliot is 17 years old. And since the accident that killed him for just a few minutes, he can’t sleep. In the small flat he shares with his father, his nights are filled with terror and helplessness. Some nights, he awakes and gets up to go to the bathroom, only to find his body is left behind. As he enters the bathroom, a grizzly suicide is played out before his eyes, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Worse, are the nights when he awakes, but caught under the influence of sleep paralysis, to find Tess (the woman who killed herself in their flat before they moved in) crawling up, and pinning him down, screaming and ranting, but he can’t hear a word, just see the crimson of her slashed wrists and feel the freezing cold bathwater from beyond the grave. Elliot has dropped out from college, lost most of his friends since his accident, and really spends his days drinking coffee trying to stay awake, doing internet research and trying to convince his dad, his brother Adam, and himself that what he is seeing is real. When he spots a job as a tour guide at Past Lives, the historical attraction and reputedly very haunted site, he notices a perfect opportunity to test whether it’s the knowledge of
Tess triggering nightmares at home, or if he really is seeing shadows of peoples last moments. Whilst at Past Lives though, he finds not only is his power quite real, but there are also forces at work in the spirit world that are all the more malevolent than even the terrifying Tess. Struggling to unravel the mysteries of his ability, as well as an old mystery at Past Lives that seems to have gone unnoticed, but one stained with blood and lies, Elliot is also coming to terms with his first feelings towards a girl since the crash that started all this: Ophelia. Ophelia is the niece of Arthur Hodge, manager and owner of Past Lives, which comes with its own risks, but she’s also involved in something much bigger than that, something which will change everyone’s lives.

Unrest is just brilliant. I love horror, and this is spot on exactly why. Unrest skips the metaphysical epic feel of a lot of supernatural fiction, and weaves in a great “cold case” crime/detective mystery which wouldn’t look out of place on British television, and overall gives it a very grounded, very natural sense of reality. Which, let’s face it, just makes the whole thing infinitely more unsettling! My first praise for this superb ghost story is Michelle’s research, which she must have done extensively. The background on out-of-body experiences, possession, sleep paralysis and night terrors, as well as general haunting experiences is all fascinating and lends a depth a believability to Elliot’s experiences that make it impossible not to feel a great connection with, and fear for him. As it’s something I found fascinating anyway (and have spent many a late evening on Google as a teenager looking up the supernatural), I loved being able to think “Yes, I’ve read about that!”, it really helped me attach to the book.

The characters are brilliant, and I’ll start with Elliot. He’s the excellent, washed out teenager, bordering on the obsessive with his lack of sleep and over indulgence is coffee… I got on with him straight away, haha! He goes from apathetic to passionate and investigative in such a great, heartfelt arc, and with such desperation that it’s impossible not to feel his pain, to share in the accident, and to really drive him onwards as he unravels the mysteries of Past Times (which reminded me of Beamish trips as a child, so I really related to that one too). Ophelia is the perfect enigmatic, mysterious love interest, from watching her distantly tending horses, to her strange, white gloved hands, she oozes style, grace but also fragility and vulnerability. She’s a great counterpoint for Elliot, and helps pull him out of his manic shell and helps him get back in touch with the world. The support cast are great too, Elliot’s Dad perfect as the sceptical role to compare Elliot’s condition too, and his brother Adam as a great example of how even without accidents, life has ups and downs. Arthur Hodge is a great character to really grind the reader’s gears too, painfully human and flawed, but clearly trying to do the best for his business and family, making him a well rounded character.

Michelle has a great way of storytelling, which really pulled me through her 13 series, and kept me glued to the pages of Unrest. In the great traditions of Susan Hill, M.R. James or even Stephen King (the opening scene of Tess in the bathtub just screamed of the Shining to me, don’t know if that was meant to be!), the mystery is so well twisted and hidden that the real shocking moments you just don’t see coming, but looking back at the mounting evidence, it all falls into place so well. The tragic back stories are at times, much more haunting than the supernatural events, and the vengeful spirit idea is really well delivered and used as a superb plot device to drive the story forward, helping keep the mystery at Past Lives and the supernatural mystery of Elliot’s condition held together.

Get this checked out!

D

P.S. Check out my Teen Ghost Story theme from work:

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