Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Thirteenth

by G. L. Twynham


Valerie Saunders seems like a normal eighteen-year-old. She's taken up her first paid job in an antique book store, where her boss is a stuffy old man and her biggest challenge seems to be getting to work on time. But Val has strange, vivid dreams about a girl from the past, and one day she's struck down by an awful pain in her arm. When she recovers she discovers she has an unwanted tattoo made up of symbols she doesn't recognise.

The tattoo is more than something her parents will disapprove of, however. When its symbols glow she's transported through time and space and bestowed with superhuman abilities. She uses her powers to rescue people who are in trouble. But she has little control over when and where she goes, and no idea why this is happening to her.

Val isn't alone in her adventures. Although she can't bring herself to tell her parents about her problems, she confides in Delta, her shopping-obsessed American friend, and Shane, the owner of a tattoo parlour. Soon she has a Scooby gang of helpers around her to help her live through the next adventure and figure out what's going on.

The Thirteenth kicks off with an intriguing start and plenty of action. But after the first few episodes a pattern is set up: Val has 13 symbols, and one by one they glow and take her away on each short escapade. Although the places she goes and the people she encounters vary, it's always a case of Val having to step in and be heroic and then getting out quickly before her parents realise she's missing, and in time for the next crisis. After the sixth or seventh jump they begin to seem repetitive. It's not until chapter 8, when we get a decent twist to the basic template, that the tension ramps up a notch.

Val's friends, family and adversaries are what makes the story interesting, more than the pickles she finds herself in and the powers she has. Val seems quite trusting, perhaps even a poor judge of character. She confides in Shane even though she hardly knows him, whilst she takes an instant dislike to Wendy based on the girl's odd reading habits and her somewhat unnerving manner. This makes Val appear slightly mean. Val's not stupid, but she's a little irresponsible, she's fascinated by certain young men, and she's as fallible as anyone else. In short, she's quite ordinary. So it's not clear why she's the one gifted (or cursed, if you like) with special powers and a chosen destiny. Although this means the main character is likeable and easy to sympathise with, as the story goes on it's increasingly difficult to tell what its point is. Having a protagonist who stood for something might have changed that.

A few of the characters aren't very well conceived. The villains and their minions tend to be blacker than black, naff stereotypes of insane evil rather than believable characters. And Delta, Val's best friend, is far too much of a flighty airhead with too much money to splash around and her head stuck in Prada and Gucci-styled clouds.

The prose is in need of tightening up in places, because it can be long-winded sometimes and the characters state the obvious too often. However the part I liked the least was the far-fetched ending. After a showdown that involved a certain amount of hammy lines and villainous posturing, the story slips into an entirely different genre. Nothing prepares the reader for this shock. This stretches the story's credibility to breaking point, because it comes out of the blue and reads as though the surprise ending wasn't planned from the start of the book.

The Thirteenth has its moments of fun, tenderness, and white-knuckle excitement, and Val Saunders is engaging. But its themes and some of its characters are very shallow, and the bizarre ending jolted me out of the story, so this book isn't one of my raves.

27th June 2011

Book Details

Year: 2009

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
  Female Protagonist  

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Review © Ros Jackson