The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge
Published by Hot Key Books, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Hearing this described as ‘part ghost story, part Nordic thriller’ was all I really needed to feel hyped. In fact, I included it amongst my most anticipated releases of the year. It centres around Martha, a teenage girl with the strange supernatural ability to tell things about a person simply by touching their clothes. She sets off to her Grandmother’s home in rural Norway in search of answers, and things take a series of strange and dark turns from there as she delves into her family history.
Though it’s fair to say it didn’t live up to my high expectations, there were certainly aspects of it that I enjoyed. The cold, isolated setting was right up my street; I liked the strong influence of mythology; and there were a few creepy, atmospheric moments, during which the narrative was definitely at its strongest.
There was a decent attempt to flesh out the central characters, Martha and Stig, as both process their respective feelings of grief and trauma. Martha is also blind in one eye, and sustained a facial disfigurement in the same accident that sparked her strange abilities. Though I felt far more could have been done here in the way of emotional growth, there was a slight element of Martha trying to overcome her insecurities and make peace with her physical differences – which is always a positive message to spread, especially in a novel aimed at a predominantly YA audience.
There’s no denying that things get a little far-fetched plot wise, but I was actually able to suspend my disbelief and submit myself to its fantastical oddities, swept up by the brisk pace and its moments of genuine excitement. Ironically, it was the more human elements of the story that I found unbelievable, particularly the angsty romance subplot; which also veered a little too much towards insta-love for my liking. It felt contrived to me; there to adhere to YA conventions rather than for character development or plot progression; not to mention being tonally jarring with the otherwise dark and thrilling story.
I won’t get into spoiler territory, but I will say there was a bit of a twist towards the end which, in fairness, did stop things from becoming the perfectly neat, happily-ever-after conclusion that I feared we were heading towards. It threw up a lot of potential to really shake up the dynamic between Martha and Stig, and to flip reader expectations. But once again, it wasn’t followed up properly, and so its potential impact simmered out.
That, in fact, is a fairly good way to sum up how I felt about the book as a whole. It has lots of potential in a number of areas, and is certainly a fast, fun read, but it never hit the mark as strongly as it could have, landing firmly in ‘meh’ territory for me. Still, I decided to round up to three stars for its original concept and sheer readability.
If you fancy giving The Twisted Tree a go, you can find it with free international shipping by clicking here, or on the image above. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!