Falling from the tree in her grandmother’s garden left Martha facially scarred and blind in one eye, but the accident also gave her an extraordinary gift: just by touching a person’s clothes, Martha can connect with the wearer’s memories and emotions. Martha asks her mother what this could mean, but her mother - who Martha is sure knows more than she’s letting on - remains obstinately silent.
Determined to uncover the secret of her unwanted gift, Martha runs away from her home in England to her grandmother’s cabin in Norway, only to discover that a strange young boy has taken up residence there, that her grandmother died and was buried a week ago, and that something monstrous and otherworldly is prowling through the snow waiting to rend them with its vicious razor-sharp claws. And what is the secret of the tree in her grandmother’s garden? Does it really house the souls of the dead in its twisted labyrinthine roots?
The Twisted Tree is billed as a YA novel, but don’t let that fool you - this is a ghost story that will get under the skin of the most hardened reader. It’s a slow burner that makes fantastically creepy use of its isolated Norwegian setting, and expertly combines Nordic mythology with the supernatural. In many ways, it feels a bit like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline collided with Catherine Storr’s Marianne Dreams, with a smidgen of Beowulf thrown in for good measure.
Fans of the genre will know what to expect from very early into the story, but doesn’t the real joy of a ghost story lie in the journey and not the destination? Debut author Rachel Burge has created two wonderfully complex protagonists in the characters of Martha and Stig, and she knows how to ramp up the tension even if one or two plot twists begin to feel more like dead-ends and the opening seems a little bit rushed. Also, there’s a moment towards the climax of the novel that feels tacked-on for the YA audience, which is a shame because it potentially wraps everything up too cleanly, although with the inevitable hint that a sequel could be in the works. We hope that’s not the case because, although we look forward to what Burge has to offer next, Martha’s journey should definitely end here. The Twisted Tree doesn’t need a follow-up - it’s a book that’s fascinatingly macabre enough to stand on its own tortured feet.
THE TWISTED TREE / AUTHOR: RACHEL BURGE / PUBLISHER: HOT KEY BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW