The Thirteenth Tower (Tree and Tower, #1)
by Sara C. Snider
Emelyn is a 17 year old house servant who never knew her real parents.
When strange things start happening in her town, the only place she ever knew, and two magisters promise her the answers she always longed for, she agrees to follow them on a wondrous, dangerous adventure, which will change her forever.
The narrative starts with a Cinderella sort of feel. We find out that Emelyn always has a bunch of chores to do and she has to do them quickly, but this day is even more important, because there is an amazing, much yearned for festival taking place that night, and she really wants to go, but only if she can finish in time.
Then that first chapter ends with a sort of piper of Hamelin feel and I was hooked.
Emelyn is not your average main character. She is a house servant who is resigned to her fate; she says please and curtsies and is always very polite; minds her own business, even when she is curious; she performs her tasks with zeal. Her only regret is that she never knew her parents. She was left on the doorstep of the house where she has worked since age 10. But she is not your typical rebellious teen and that, for me, was very refreshing. She is actually very appreciative of what she has, because she recognizes others are much worse off than her, and takes comfort in knowing she is very good at what she does.
Those first two chapters were so good that the rest of the adventure did not quite live up. Up until that point, it was totally a 5 star book and I had not a single complaint. You see, the way Emelyn is taken out of her world, a world she doesn’t even dislike per se – it’s her home and she is appreciative of it – and is then introduced to magical creatures is done very, very craftily. The author really has a way with words. She does a brilliant job at showing instead of telling and that is something that has been lacking in my reads for a very long time.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still quite gripped by the narrative most of the way. I am not quite sure how the author did it, but I managed to feel like I was in the story without extensive descriptions of the scenario or the characters. I found the imagery quite vivid, and it didn’t take many words for that to happen.
The dialogues were very realistic, contributed to me wanting to know what came next and kept me on edge about what was going on – who was good or bad, what their intentions were. At first you may not care much for the characters, particularly the secondary ones, because they feel somewhat bland and there is quite a lot of secrecy going on. But as the story progresses, you find out why they acted the way they did, why they said certain things, and they gain a whole new dimension.
Emelyn really grew on me. She was actually a bit slow at first, but mostly not for lack of wits, only because she was really reluctant to believe what was happening, especially with people around her saying it was all product of fairy tales and could not be real. I found that plausible instead of annoying, that she was wary to believe things that made no sense but at the same time tried to make sense of her new reality.
I love that Emelyn was actually weak at times. She was a house servant not so long ago! One does not develop an insane amount of courage overnight. Yes, some people would prefer that she had more mojo, but I for one found this, again, completely believable, which won me over.
She had no desire to go off with anyone; she just wanted everything to return to normal.
That would have totally been my reaction too. Going on an adventure sounds all nice and dandy when I am imagining it, but I would never do it if the opportunity arose. I for one really took to such a responsible character and couldn’t help but grow very fond of her.
The things that made me lower the rating down from the full 5 stars were the following:
Firstly, the fact that I saw the plot twist, or rather who Emelyn’s parents were, way too early. I knew who her father was in their first conversation, when he said she reminded him of his wife (duh) and from then on it wasn’t hard to guess who her mother was. The way we were presented to it was very well achieved, but that does not erase the fact that I figured it out way too early in the book, as well as other smaller things, and kept expecting the main character to get it as well.
I also wished that the story had been paced quicker at times. By condensing some things they would have had more impact.
And I felt that little details could have added to the story, given it a bit more density. For instance, when Emelyn first sleeps in a bed at an inn, there could have been a reference to how different it was to sleeping on a pallet all her life, a brief description of how heavenly it must have felt to her.
Some expressions I found a bit repetitive, like looked at X askance or if (…), he showed no sign of it.
I also thought that if she is such a polite girl she should have offered some chocolate to Corran; after all, he gave it to her.
I have to admit this book caught me by surprise. Judging by the cover and premise, I thought it would be another fantasy book aimed mostly at young teens, but it was actually a very mature, well crafted fantasy read and I can honestly say that overall this was one of the best fantasy books I have read in a long time.
One other of my absolutely favourite things was that there was no romance in this book. Emelyn meets at least two young men who I imagine are pretty close to her age and guess what? She does not fall head over heels with either of them. She is a mature, respectful young woman, who is happy enough to develop a meaningful friendship.
The author manages to create truly unique things here.
First of all, the magic isn’t obvious and linear, which was completely new to me. Different people can use it in different ways.
Then, the the magical creatures. My favourite were definitely the Wylkins (oh, that Cobbe… loved her passionately!!), and I trust we will know more about the Forest People in the sequel. That concept intrigues me a lot, as well as the Magisters. They are the perfect example of semi good intentions done in a very bad way. I loved the moral that the ends do not justify the means.
An author can utterly conquer me by creating characters who are not necessarily good or bad, and this was very well achieved here. I particularly rooted for Aldren all the way, and let’s not forget the ‘villain’ of the story.
There’s plenty of things in the book which will take you by surprise. If not for real life conditioning my reading time, I would have devoured it in one go. I am very intrigued to see what comes next in the series.
I thoroughly recommend The Thirteenth Tower. Read it if you are looking for a breath of fresh air in the world of fantasy literature. It is well worth your time.
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.