Martha can tell things about a person just by touching their clothes, as if their emotions and memories have been absorbed into the material. It started the day she fell from the tree at her grandma’s cabin and became blind in one eye.
Determined to understand her strange ability, Martha sets off to visit her grandmother, Mormor – only to discover Mormor is dead, a peculiar boy is in her cabin and a terrifying creature is on the loose.
Then the spinning wheel starts creaking, books move around and terror creeps in . . .
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.24 out of 5
10th January 2019 by Hot Key Books
It started the day I fell from the tree at Mormor’s cabin in Norway. The day I became blind in one eye.
I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
After Martha fell from a tree (a… twisted tree *wink*) at her grandmother’s house and became blind in one eye she began to develop the extraordinary ability of psychometry where she could read the emotions and histories of people via touching their clothes.
Understandably this is not as cool as it sounds and has left Martha a neurotic mess, not only because the information she receives on people is not always pleasant but because she has no idea how or why she’s received this ‘gift’ in the first place.
We also have our first instance of what I typically call a ‘YA trope’ which is that ‘Parents Are Useless.’ Namely Martha’s mother who knows more than she is letting on but decides to reveal absolutely nothing. Great tactic.
Martha decides to travel to Norway to visit her grandmother (Mormor) and get some answers. Unfortunately it isn’t that easy – we wouldn’t have a plot otherwise.
My thoughts in an insta-nutshell about The Twisted Tree:
This book is… alright. It’s… lukewarm tea. It’s… ok.
One of the reasons that I struggled with The Twisted Tree is that I didn’t think any of the characters were particularly memorable. It’s a short book and so a lot of the characters are secondary (the neighbours, Martha’s mother) or have died pre-story (Mormor).
This leaves two main characters; Martha and Stig.
If I’m being frank, Martha doesn’t have much of a personality. What she has is a series of events. Her defining features are that she’s annoyed at her mother, loved her Mormor and has a crush on Stig.
The last bemuses me a bit because Stig also has no personality whatsoever, just a badass coat and a tragic backstory involving a dead father and comatose girlfriend.
That’s it. That’s the main characters. I have nothing else to say on them other than the story is them reacting to the external events around them.
The antagonist isn’t even a character but a creature that has crawled its way out of the Tree of Life and needs to be put back. There is no motivation, no nuance. The creature just is.
What I did enjoy was the Norse Mythology elements; the Norns, the Tree of Life (which is the twisted tree of the title), the dead, and the story of Odin losing his eye. I thought it was wonderful to see these included in a YA story.
What also worked for me was the descriptions of the setting. I could feel the isolation of a cabin in the Norwegian landscape in the heart of winter and I love it when the mists roll in over the land to add to the tension of it all.
Because of these descriptions this book could join, ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ in a list of ‘Books That Made Me Feel Cold.’
I’m going to get a tad ranty.
Remember when I said that one of Martha’s defining features was her crush on Stig? That whole insta crush thing actually wound me up to no end.
Despite her Mormor just having died and the danger of a foul creature stalking the landscape, Martha’s prime concerns are whether Stig thinks she’s pretty, whether he’ll ever fancy her and whether he’ll ever kiss her.
I get it. I was a teenage girl once and I know I was a bit preoccupied with my crushes but at the same time I wasn’t alone in the Norwegian forests with the dead crawling back through the earth. Even I can prioritise.
These thoughts of Martha’s are interspersed so much throughout the story (and at completely random times) that it became the story and truly that’s a shame as the original premise and the nods to Norse Mythology were exceedingly more interesting.
We had the women in Martha’s ancestry tending to the Tree of Life and Martha being ‘gifted’ with a second sight akin to Odin, we had Martha’s mother wanting to reject this destiny because she wanted to choose her own, we had Martha reestablishing a bond with her mother and we had the question of, ‘can we ever outrun our fates?’
We had all this. Correction, we could have had all this as the potential was a little wasted.
What we got instead was Martha being jealous after seeing a photo of Stig’s ex-girlfriend on his phone and fixating on Stig throughout the entire story.
This is what the writer wanted to invest in? Romance was not needed in this story at all. If Martha needed a friend to act as an exposition soundboard then sure, but why was there romance?! And why oh why did it overtake the plot?? We had the Norns… we had the Norns.
Ignore me while I sob quietly.
But that’s the thing – what was promising was the premise and the writer did offer up some delightfully creepy and atmospheric scenes.
If something is out there in the woods, you don’t always want to see it in detail. The fact that something is scratching at the house and climbing onto the roof is creepy enough and for building that level of tension I will give the writer a kudos.
Unfortunately I felt that those moments of heightened tension were far and few between and they sadly got lessened around the 75% mark where exposition and over explanation came into play.
That’s the other thing I couldn’t get on board with – the pacing.
The story was stretched out at the beginning in terms of build up and Stig (sigh) but this meant that the main action/ climax felt quite short and because there wasn’t enough room in the story everything had to became exposition in order for the story to make sense.
The resolution at the end felt like a bolt on. In fact the book itself felt incomplete with a plot thread introduced (and that could have been such a tantalising plot thread) and then dropped with Martha going, ‘maybe one day I’ll ask.’ Er… ok. It’s quite a serious thing Martha, maybe pick it up nowish?
I have to be honest – that’s not an ending for me. In some ways not having a resolution can be an ending of its own but not here. It was more like the author had been given a word count (the book was quite short) and if she continued writing then the word count would have been exceeded so she just ended it mid story.
In all honesty the fact that the book felt quite short didn’t really matter because I didn’t particularly get on with it.
The story felt like it was for the ‘younger’ side of YA despite some dark events but if the book was longer it could have allowed the material to breathe more and that may have rectified some of the pacing issues.
But the romance? Incredibly irrelevant and disappointingly overbearing on what could have been an interesting and unique story.
Was absolutely fine. Like I’ve said before, the creepy moments where tension was needed was written well. I could have read more of that for sure.