"The Twisted Tree" is an original, deeply atmospheric Young Adult book that brings Norse myths to life in modern Norway, as seventeen-year-old Marta runs away from home in England to her Grandmother's cabin in Norway, only to discover that, instead of a refuge from the traumas in her life, she has made herself the target of a supernatural threat.
I listened to the first four hours on a long drive and was completely pulled in to the story. I liked the fact that, although this is a relatively short book (180 pages / six hours forty minutes) Rachel Burge didn't rush storytelling.
We follow Martha step by step as she makes her first solo journey to Norway and tries to make sense of what she finds there. As she journeys, we learn about the recent trauma that she's suffered and about her sudden and unwelcome ability to read the thoughts of emotions of people when she touches their clothes.
I liked the slow growth of a sense of threat in the story, which matches pace with Martha's arrival on an in Norway on a dark, stormy January night. All Martha's previous visits have been in summer when the days feel endless, so the menacing beauty of the benighted, snow-covered mountains was new to her. Part of my enjoyment came from how well the atmosphere of the mountains in winter was evoked. I'm recently returned from living in Switzerland and it fed my hunger for mountains and snow as I drove past flooded fields in dismal but unrelenting rain in the daylight-dark of an English winter.
"The Twisted Tree" is not so much horror story as a story about a young woman discovering the truth of her Norwegian heritage, the responsibilities it places on her and the abilities it gives her.
Key to the success of the book is the fact that Martha is a believable seventeen-year-old girl, not some kick-ass warrior woman. She's brave when she needs to be but she spends much of her time frightened and unsure about what to do next.
There's a romance element to the book that is nicely judged to develop Martha's character without sliding into melodrama. There are also some very creepy scenes with the dead, the undead and the recently murdered.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the book wobbled a bit in the last ninety minutes. There was a lull in the action as Martha waits for dawn before doing what needs to be done to deal with the supernatural threat she faces. I understand why the lull was there. It was used to give Martha a dream contact with a key character who guides her on what she has to do but the pacing, which had been intense, was broken and, to me, there seemed to be too much of explaining of what had to be done and why.
The book recovered during the climactic conflict and set itself up for a sequel but it lost a little impact along the way.
The narrator. Kate Okello does a good job. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.