The Twisted Tree

The Twisted Tree was written by Rachel Burge and first published in 2018. It is a dark fantasy story about a girl who finds herself isolated in a remote Norwegian forest as something terrible lurks outside. The novel stands-alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

On the day that Martha was blinded in one eye, she gained a surprising power. She only needed to touch a person’s clothing to feel their emotions and gain glimpses into their past. Naturally, she felt that she had lost her mind. Due to a combination of this and loathing of her scarred face, she became more withdrawn and started to avoid social gatherings. The only person that she tried to confide in was her Mormor in Norway, however she never received a reply to any of her letters.

When Martha catches her mother burning a letter from Mormor, she knows that she needs to find a way to visit her grandmother in person. However, on arrival at her remote Norwegian island, she discovers that she has made a huge mistake. Mormor has passed away and a strange boy – Stig – has taken it upon himself to squat in her vacant home.

However, as Martha speaks with Mormor’s neighbours, she begins to learn that something strange is afoot. Mormor’s dying wish was that her family continue to tend the warped tree her garden – the very one that Martha fell from and lost her sight. Yet, as Mormor’s request has gone unheeded, Martha soon realises that something is going wrong. She begins to have strange visions about the tree and something terrible stalks the woods at night. With Stig’s help, she searches the house for some clue as to what Mormor has been hiding from her. In doing so, she learns a terrifying secret about her family that will change her life forever…

Before I begin, a word of warning. While The Twisted Tree is nowhere near the most objectionable book that I have reviewed on this blog, it does contain themes that some readers may find distressing. A primary focus of the novel is the death of a relative and it does explore the grief process in quite a lot of detail. There are also a couple of violent scenes which are certainly not for squeamish readers.

The Twisted Tree is an incredibly atmospheric winter read. The story is quick to introduce its teenage protagonist and isolate her on a remote island, making quite clear that unseen and potentially supernatural creatures lurk in the frozen forest outside. Despite being relatively short, the story is slow-burning and carries an incredibly eerie feel.

The first hints that something is not quite right come in the form of a dying woman’s strange request to ensure that a scary tree is always watered. While the full reason why is not immediately clear, Burge gradually weaves a tale of gods and monsters which draws its influence from Norse mythology. While I did like the way that she presented certain key figures, I did feel that more could have been done to introduce these characters to readers who may not already be familiar with them. Yet, if Norse mythology is your thing, I think that you will soon find yourself drawn into Martha’s world.

Part of this is the way that Burge writes, which was perfectly suited to a ghost story. While Martha’s narrative is sometimes lacking in description, it is very easy to follow and contains just the right amount of angst. The isolated setting also subtly fit the mood of the tale, creating a world that felt bright and homely in the summer (while Martha’s Mormor was still alive), but became harsh and unforgiving while she grieved. By the half-way point, I found that I was utterly hooked. I was desperate to learn the significance of the tree, what had caused Martha’s accident, if Stig was entirely on the level, and just what the “wolf” that had been sighted in the woods really was.

Yet, as the story reached its final act, I did feel as though it lost something. Without spoiling too much, I will just say that I found the ending to be a little too neat. While it wasn’t entirely sunshine and roses, it was nowhere near as bleak as the opening chapter lead me to believe it would be. In all, it just felt as though it was bit too rushed as the loose ends were tied up quickly with no real lasting ramifications for Martha or her family.

Yet, despite my gripes, it is hard for me to fault the personal level that The Twisted Tree operates on. Beneath the ghost story and legendary creatures, it was really a tale of female empowerment. While that male characters in the novel are largely flawed, the females are strong. When spirits begin to appear in this story we begin to see glimpses of Martha’s maternal family going back generations and, in her darkest hour, it is from them that Martha draws strength.

Although Martha begins the story feeling withdrawn due to her perceived deformity, she gradually learns over the course of the story that her life is what she makes of it. Through a common ground that she shares with a certain mythological character, she learns that it is up to her to write her own story and that no person’s fate is entirely set in stone. I personally loved this message and certainly think that it will resonate with young female readers.

However, I was not entirely on-board with her rather hurried relationship with Stig. They fall in love shockingly fast, despite that fact that he is a complete stranger and that Martha is grieving. The novel also left some aspects of Stig’s backstory is a little open and I personally would have liked a bit more closure. It does not feel as though The Twisted Tree is intended to be the beginning of the series and the climax left me really uncertain as to how I’m supposed to feel about him.

Anyhow, I think I’ve probably said enough. While The Twisted Tree is not perfect, it is an atmospheric tale which carries a strong message about inner strength and taking control of your own story. It is certainly a novel that I would recommend, particularly to young female readers, and I think that it is going to stay with me for a long time.

The Twisted Tree can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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