People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.
First and foremost, one thing that Diane Setterfield, the author, does very well is to make The Thirteenth Tale essentially a tribute to writing, to reading, to book lovers, and to the famous romantic Gothic novels a la the Brontes. The protagonist is an avid bibliophile and that mood, that feeling, and what it means to write and why reading can be oh so very special is all handled very well. (Personally, that's what I liked the most about this book.)
And then w/o considering the books Setterfield is trying to pay tribute to through emulation- the novel stands on its own, strongly. The story, the mystery is well crafted, and I didn't give Setterfield as much credit as I should have while I was reading (b/c for a lot of modern books that have been on the best seller lists, imho- they're decent, solid writing sometimes, but oftentimes they take the easy way out). Setterfield has certainly done her share of the work thinking and mapping out the story and I do admire her for that. Sure there are characters and plot points (eg. the protagonist's own family history and the whole Aurelius storyline) that really seemed more like plot devices than genuine character development but ultimately, it works and many of the characters do feel well-fleshed out. And you end up caring about some of them despite their faults that it is very sad when you reach the fire and understand why Miss Vida Winter's story had ended there.