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Off the Shelves: Hallows fails at being a truly unique fantasy

In the newly released "The Thirteen Hallows," a collaboration between the "Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" series author Michael Scott and award-winning playwright Colette Freedman, the novel’s heroine is 21-year-old introvert Sarah Miller.

She leads a mundane, unhappy life of going to a dead-end job, living with family that constantly berates her and being closed off from the world around her.

That is, until one night she sees an elderly woman being attacked on the street, and a buried impulse inside of Sarah spurns her to help fight off the woman’s assailants.

The best of intentions, however, can pave a person’s path to doom, as this one act suddenly sends Sarah tumbling into a world of murder, dark magic, and an age-old war against pure evil.

The old woman that Sarah saved, Judith Walker, is a Keeper of one of the Thirteen Hallows of Britain, a set of millennia-old artifacts imbued with magical powers to battle against the ravenous flesh-eating forces of Demonkind.

Judith knows that several of her fellow Keepers have been slain, brutally and bloodily, for their respective Hallows, by a malevolent collector known as the Dark Man.

Soon Judith has no choice but to pass her Hallow, a rusted broken sword, along to Sarah to deliver to Judith’s nephew, the last of her bloodline of Keepers.

As Sarah is constantly pursued by the vicious henchmen in the Dark Man’s employ, she finds herself bonding with the shattered sword, and realizes its mysterious, terrifying power over her.

In most respects, this is a typical "modern world meets medieval mythos" quest with horror elements that have become commonplace in most science-fiction and fantasy novels.

Storywise, there will not be much here to surprise readers; most of the character types we have read hundreds of times before (and much better developed than here). There is a quick, slapped-together romance that seems to only be there because he’s a guy, she’s a girl, they’ve both been unsuccessful at relationships in the past so what else is supposed to happen? And our villain wants to rule the world because ... well ... he’s evil! Do we need more reason than that?

Also, this is by far one of the goriest and most foul-smelling (yes, smelling, as there is repetitive description of the villains’ presence reeking of rotten meat and excrement) novels of this genre that I have read. While I do not necessarily mind blood and guts sprayed all over the place — if it is important to the story, and in this case the rules of arcane magic that have been established in the plot do warrant it — it began to get a little stale after a while.

That is not to say there are not some great ideas that occasionally poke their head up within the story. From an author like Scott, regarded as an authority of Celtic folklore, I was hoping he would have delved more deeply into the back story that he created, a tale blending Christian and pagan religions, mythologies and histories at the root of the entire Hallows plot.

For those who like this variety of fantasy bordering on slasher-horror, you would most likely enjoy The Thirteen Hallows.

Yet I am always bothered by a novel that gives glimpses at what could have been a much more fascinating story, and instead presents more of what the authors and publishers expect readers to like, or what they think we "expect" from them.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears biweekly in Sunday Life and at Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it.