The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge
Length: 256 pages
Recommended reader age: Young Adult
Publisher: Hot Key Books 2019
Genre: Fantasy horror
About the author:
The Twisted Tree is Rachel Burge first novel and was published in 2019. She is a UK author and also works as a freelance feature writer, having created content for BBC Worldwide, Cosmo, and MTV among others.
She lives in East Sussex with her partner, son, and black Labrador Biff and enjoys long walks in the woods. Additionally she has a fascination for Norse mythology
Martha Hopkins: The main character, blinded in one eye falling from her Grandmothers tree.
Mormor: Martha’s grandmother and teller of fantastic stories
Gandalf: Mormor’s Elkhound and all round Good Boy
Stig: The stranger now living in Mormor’s cabin
Olav and Yrsa: Mormor’s neighbours
Plot summary, spoiler free I promise:
The novel is told in the first person through the eyes of Martha, she starts be recounting the fall from a tree which left her blind in one eye and is the catalyst for the beginning of this story. We follow her journey from London, through Heathrow airport, and via plane and ferry to Skjebne (pronounced Sheb-na-), a fictional place in the Lofoten Islands, Northern Norway.
Along the way we learn of her new ability to read peoples past and emotions from touching their clothes, and this is only the start of the supernatural. As she discovers Mormor passed away and that a stranger is now living in her cabin, she must also cope with rapidly unfolding events and a destiny that ties her to the Norse Gods. All set in the near-permanent darkness of Northern hemisphere winter.
I was hooked from the start of this book. Being able to read emotions off people’s clothes was a whole new concept for me, most of the time someone with psychic abilities needs to touch skin or make eye contact, and I wanted to see how this fit into the story.
I also found that introducing the main character through her thoughts and flashbacks was well done. The first few chapters left me with far more questions than answers, but reveals were made at just the right pace that kept me interested and the story flowing. I also liked that being able to read emotions from clothes stayed relevant throughout the whole book and wasn’t sidelined as events unfolded which sometimes happens.
The setting of this novel is also the perfect recipe for a horror story, the almost constant darkness speaks to the primal fear of the dark that lives in all of us, and with the addition of a deadly creature, a tree that almost seems alive, and unexplained phenomenon, I can think of very few people who wouldn’t be scared. The scenes inside the cabin were a brilliant touch too, there was almost no let up once things got going and I felt the author did a great job of ramping up the fear level and keeping it high by making sure nowhere felt safe,.
Martha was a brilliant main character too. While her abilities definitely make her something special, it still took a great deal of bravery and strength to cope with the events that transpired. I found this refreshing as nothing annoys me more than a character finding out they have supernatural abilities and then suddenly being able to fix everything, even though they don’t know how their new abilities work. Martha’s fate and family history definitely played a part in the story, but without her quick thinking, bravery and problem solving the outcome could have been very different.
Her blindness too plays a key part in the story, although maybe not to the extent I hoped for. It does contribute to a few seriously terrifying moments though and tied the past to the present well. Norse mythology is also beautifully woven into this book, in a way that felt like a new perspective, impressive considering how many books contain Norse Gods in some form or another. I was scared, then intrigued, relieved then scared all over again.
Alongside the creature that stalks in the night, creepy dolls and haunting events within the cabin the author also doesn’t hold back from topics such as grief and the devastating effects this can have both personally and within families. And discussed sight loss and facial disfigurement in a way that is both raw yet understanding. In short I loved this book and immediately pre-ordered the sequel when finished reading.
Recommended for anyone that enjoys thrillers, stories of Gods and the super natural.