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Novel Review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

Review: When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones is a gripping, terrifying tale bound to keep you up all night—from both fear and anticipation of what happens next.

Content Warnings: Body Horror, Mentions of Domestic Abuse

Review: Ursula Vernon wooed me with her fantasy novels, and I was in love ever since. That was why I just had to see her horror debut, The Twisted Ones, for myself. Would her first foray into horror be as gripping and beautiful as her fairy-tale retellings? Would it creep me out as much as it creeped out my colleagues?

Thankfully, the answer to all these questions was a resounding “yes.”

Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher, possesses a really addicting writing style. Her prose feels real like I’m really reading the product of an anxious, traumatized editor recounting her experiences cleaning out a hoarding nightmare while finding out monsters actually do exist. The prose style lends itself extremely well to her character writing in general. Vernon makes memorable characters as easily as a bird makes a nest.

I also adore how much work went into creating Mouse’s family. Botanist Aunt Kate, Grim Cotgrave, and the malevolent and abusive workings of Grandma all give a perfect foundation for understanding Mouse and the inner workings of the plot. This happens to create the most relatable part of the book, and the more relatable it got, the creepier I felt when things took a turn for the weird.

While her talents usually reside in the fantasy sphere, I’m glad to say that she creates a wonderful horror setting, too. The concept of The Twisted Ones delights me. I love how she managed to make this concept work so fittingly with the hoarding element in the novel. What a great job there especially since this is all inspired by Arthur Machen.

Additionally, Vernon does an excellent job of pacing in the book. The reader gets little hints that gradually build up and up until we finally get the payoff. I appreciate any novel that masters the art, especially when it uses the character’s own confusion and ignorance against them and us.

If anything, the aspects of the novel dealing most explicitly with Machen’s “The White People” feel the weakest in comparison to Vernon’s more original ideas, but I can’t complain.

This book did what few others do: scared me. After finishing it, I went outside to throw away the garbage and managed to jump when I spotted movement in the corner of my eye. It was just my reflection in the glass of my father’s truck. That was how much I was instinctively on alert for anything that moved or sounded too much like a woodpecker.

I’ve been recommending Ursula Vernon to my fantasy friends for a while now, and I’m glad to now finally confirm that she definitely fits right in for all you horror readers. If you want a chilling fairy tale with a relatable character and her pooch, look no further than The Twisted Ones!

Rating: ★★★★ of 5 stars!

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