4 Stars. Trigger warnings for hoarding, death of a loved one.
A few years ago, I went with my Mom to stay with her and my Aunt at my aunt’s new cabin on a kettle lake in upstate New York. Kettle lakes look like ponds, but they were formed by ice blocks melting many a year ago. Bloody Pond, the kettle lake my Aunt has her cabin on, is spring fed so the water is crisp and clear. It’s very refreshing! My Aunt’s cabin is set deep among some pines, and it feels very bewitching to be there.
We had a lovely weekend in her adorable cabin, swimming, reading, eating, and drinking. There was, of course, an amazing campfire, and we stayed up late talking and laughing. But the later we stayed up (and the more red wine I drank), the more I couldn’t stop looking out into the pines. It got really creepy. What could be in those pines? Were there creatures watching us? What kind of creatures?
I was also raised on a very healthy dose of creepy folklore. My family has a lot of Scottish and Irish blood, so stories of changelings and brownies and selkies etc. were very common. I’m convinced my mom is in good with some faeries. I think it’s because of all of this that I loved T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones so much. I think I love folk horror best now.
Mouse lives in Pittsburgh (heyo, local gal!), and she doesn’t see much of her immediate family. Her Aunt raised her after her Mom died, but she talks to her Dad every week on the phone. Her Grandma lived in rural North Carolina (I also have family in North Carolina…too many coincidences), but now that both she and her Step-grandpa are dead, their house is just sitting vacant. Mouse’s Dad calls her up and asks a huge favor…would she please go down and clean the house out so they can decide what to do next with it? She can’t say no.
The house is a disaster. Her Grandma was at hoarder status before her death, and Mouse knows it’s going to take forever to get through the piles she left behind. But she’s got a radio and her lovable (if doofy) coon hound Bongo by her side. She also has her Step-grandpa’s old journal for reading material, and boy is it a doozy! He talks about carvings on stones, twisting about like the twisted ones, laying down like the dead ones, poppets, not being able to sleep, and of course how generally awful Mouse’s Grandma was.
Mouse gets hooked on the journal and begins searching for a book that her Step-grandpa keeps referring to, but as she hunts the stuffed house for this missing book (or anything related to her Step-grandpa’s ramblings), things go off the rails. I don’t want to spoil anything, because the plot is so twisted and fun, but Mouse and Bongo soon learn that they are in a place where the veil between their world and a different, more ancient and magical one, is very thin. The woods behind the house are a dangerous place. There are monsters out there, and Mouse’s Step-grandpa knew it. The monsters knew about him too, and now they know about Mouse.
I blew through The Twisted Ones! T. Kingfisher’s writing is so entertaining and juicy. The imagery is rich and shocking, the characters are well developed and a ton of fun, and the lore is fascinating. As a piece of folk horror, I found it gripping and compelling. When you take old-country stories and beliefs and you bring them into stark contrast with the modern era, sometimes the juxtaposition itself is unsettling. This book goes way beyond unsettling, however. There is one image that I will never get out of my head. Now, when I stare out at a sea of dark, damp pines at night, I will think about that image and probably run screaming back into a well-lit house.
But The Twisted Ones isn’t a beat-you-over-the-head scary book. It’s full of creeping dread, and there are some horrific images (as mentioned above), but it’s mostly a well told adventure with some solid scares and a well developed setting. Something I appreciate the most about it is its sense of humor. Mouse is hilarious, and the neighbors she makes friends with at her Grandma’s house are so fun you find yourself wanting to have dinner with them yourself.
The Twisted Ones is a well-rounded novel for those who are intrigued by the darker side of things. It’s steeped in old-timey lore and family secrets, with a healthy dose of humor and adventure. If you enjoyed The Ritual by Adam Nevill or The Blair Witch Project, you’re sure to enjoy The Twisted Ones. But I recommend this book to both horror and non-horror readers alike! It’s truly a romp of a story.
Published 10/1/19. Thank you to Gallery / Saga Press and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.