The Thirteenth Tale (Review)

Book cover for "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield.Title: The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield

Narrators: Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner

Publication Year: 2006

Pages: 432 (audio length: 15 hours 41 minutes)

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Source: Purchased audiobook version from

From the cover:

All children mythologize their birth…So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s beloved collection of stories, long famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale. The enigmatic Winter has always kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she summons a biographer to tell the truth about her extraordinary life: Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth remains an ever-present pain.

Disinterring the life she meant to bury for good, Vida mesmerizes Margaret with the power of her storytelling. Hers is a tale of gothic strangeness, featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, and a devastating fire. Struck by a curious parallel between their stories, Margaret demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them.

The Thirteenth Tale is a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter, and in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

I will start out by saying: I am a sucker for true-to-form gothic tales of secrets and deception. And The Thirteenth Tale definitely fit the bill.

I’m not going to get into the plot details anymore than the publisher’s description (above) does, largely because it just will give too much away. This is definitely a book that relies on plot twists and suspense to keep the reader interested. But I will say that if you like plot-driven books, especially dark, gothic-style mysteries, then you will probably love this one.

Aside from the plot, there are also really well-articulated characters that are both lovable and horrific, sometimesĀ at the same time. In particular, I liked the narration when it was done by Vida Winter – it was interesting to not always know whether she was reliable and whether things were actually happening. And, to be honest, I found Margaret a little irritating: she was so mopey and depressed all the time, and I just found the reasons for it to be overblown and kind of unreasonable.

Ultimately, though, the combination of intense characters and twisted, often-creepy plotline just kept me enthralled until the very end. If you’re into this kind of book, The Thirteenth Tale might just do it for you, too.


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