Thursday 25 June 2020

Book review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

It's been a while since I wrote a review. I've been in a reading slump, which started last year and only got worse due to 2020 being the lovely year it is. So when I read a book that actually got its hooks into me - a book that rekindled some of my enthusiasm for reading - I figured it's only fair to review it.

The Twisted Ones was that book. The story starts with our narrator arriving at the house that used to belong to her recently deceased grandmother. Her father, too ill himself to deal with the problem, has asked her to sort it. Unable to turn down a request for help, she is there to clear it and get it ready to be sold.

Unfortunately for her, the house turns out to be filled to the brim with stuff: her grandmother had been a hoarder. Newspapers, kitchenware, packaging, creepy dolls...  Staying in the crowded, claustrophobic, malevolent house, she stumbles across a diary written by her long-deceased Welsh step-grandfather, Cotgrove, written in the last years of his life as his mind was starting to fade. Some of his thoughts seem to veer to the edge of reality, and, perhaps, beyond...

The Twisted Ones is a horror novel. My own experience with horror is relatively mixed: as a fiction reader, I was easier to scare when I was young. These days, it's mostly the real world that scares me. That said, The Twisted Ones attached itself to the fear receptors in my brain with intentions most foul, and cheerfully twisted all the fear-neurons into a neat Celtic knot.

The book builds up its uncanny fairly gradually. It is very cinematic in some ways: there are sounds and glimpsed movements and for a long time, nothing unambiguously sinister occurs. Our narrator's dog Bongo sometimes growls at the darkness (while being totally gormless at other times). In fact, the story is at its scariest at these moments, when our narrator and Bongo are alone in a cluttered house, in the countryside, and the dog senses something outside, or needs to be taken outside to pee...

This is a T Kingfisher / Ursula Vernon novel, though, so there is a strong sense of humour as well. Not to mention a cast of likeable characters for our narrator to befriend and spend increasing amounts of time with as the story goes on. The book might well have been a lot scarier if our narrator had been left alone with her dog for the duration of the tale, but it wouldn't have been a T Kingfisher novel. As a reader, I was quite happy for the book to trade in some terror and gain some warm fuzzy feelings, but I imagine others might feel differently about that. At the same time, those warm and fuzzy feelings about characters brought with them a degree of tension: our narrator pretty much told us right at the start that she and Bongo survived the ordeal of this tale, but she never gave us such assurances about any of the friends she made along the way...

The Twisted Ones is a brilliant novel. It manages to be genuinely scary, and when it runs out of terror, it amps up the tension instead. The story has the warmth and wit of Ursula Vernon / T Kingfisher at her best. And, best of all, I found it pretty unputdownable, even in the middle of the worst reading slump I have had in years.

Rating: 5/5