The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Twisted Ones (2019) begins with mild consternation: Melissa, who goes by “Mouse,” has the thankless task of taking a trip to backwoods North Carolina, with her loyal redbone coonhound Bongo for company, to clean out her late grandmother’s home. “It’ll be a mess,” her father says, in a massive understatement. Consternation shifts to deep dismay: Grandma was a hoarder. It’s even worse than normal, since her grandmother was a cruel and vicious person, and something of her evil still infuses her house, like the room full of baby dolls that looks like a “monument to infanticide.” Luckily, Mouse finds one bedroom that is clear of clutter, the bedroom of her step-grandfather Cotgrave, who died many years earlier. (If you’ve read Arthur Machen’s 1904 classic horror novelette “The White People,” you should recognize the name Cotgrave here. It’s no coincidence.)

Mouse moves into Cotgrave’s bedroom for the duration, while she works on cleaning out the house so it can be sold. In Cotgrave’s nightstand she finds his handwritten journal. In his journal Cotgrave was fretting over a lost green book that he’d obtained from a man named Ambrose. He was also troubled by a phrase that was stuck in his head, like a song that will never stop replaying:

I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones.

In fact, once Mouse reads this sentence in the journal, she has a hard time getting it out of her head herself. But as it turns out, the hoarding and the creepy journal aren’t the worst things about staying in her grandparents’ house. There are things in the woods surrounding the house, and they may not just stay in the woods. Mouse’s dismay at her situation evolves into terror.

The Twisted Ones is an inventive horror novel that takes “The White People” as its launching point and creates a modern-day sequel to it. Kingfisher takes Machen’s story in a different direction that I’m morally certain never occurred to him, but that I’m confident he would have appreciated. The Twisted Ones contains a more folkloric type of horror than its source material, and it’s lightened by the appealing voice and wry humor of Mouse, who narrates the story. Her job as a freelance editor informs many of her opinions about Cotgrave’s writing, almost distracting her from the journal’s deeper import.

Another source of both comfort and comic relief is Mouse’s hound Bongo. He’s a dedicated companion, loyal and loving, even if dimwitted at times, and he has an excellent nose.

I had the impression that he was thinking very hard about something (or more accurately, that his nose was thinking very hard about something. Bongo’s nose is far more intelligent than the rest of him, and I believe it uses his brain primarily as a counterweight).

These moments of lightness balance the chilling horror, which creeps up on the reader as much as it does Mouse. I read the last ten percent with my heart in my throat.

The most difficult section of “The White People” is the lengthy and hallucinatory quoting of the Green Book; The Twisted Ones has a counterpart to this tale-within-a-tale approach as Mouse dives more deeply into dissecting Cotgrave’s journal. It felt a little lengthy and difficult to unpack, though it’s not nearly as difficult to wade through as the Green Book, and after re-familiarizing myself with “The White People,” this section became much more interesting and readable.

If you’ve ever read “The White People,” The Twisted Ones is a must-read. If you haven’t, I’d recommend giving “The White People” at least a quick skim (it’s freely available online) before jumping into this novel. It’s well worth your time for any fan of the horror genre … and even for readers who — like me — aren’t normally into horror novels. I decided to give it a try because T. Kingfisher (a pseudonym of Ursula Vernon) is a fantastic author with a talent for making fairy tales and other old things new again. It was an excellent decision.

~Tadiana Jones


The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTadiana’s excellent review is comprehensive, which frees me up to write about two or three things that I really liked. For the record, I read The Twisted Ones before I read “The White People.” It didn’t spoil my enjoyment in any way, but I agree with Tat that reading it beforehand will probably make reading The Twisted Ones a little more fun, if only for the names.

I assume “folkloric horror” is a sub-genre. If it wasn’t before, it is now as far as I’m concerned. Kingfisher expertly creates and deepens the sense of general weirdness into an itchy, look-over-your-shoulder, hide-under-the-covers creepiness, interspersed with charming, everyday scenes that lull the reader, for a moment, into a sense that things aren’t that bad. The story draws on the colonial heritage of the rural southeast and its connection to the British Isles.

I loved the voice of Mouse, our first-person narrator. Kingfisher had some fun with the “found manuscript” trope, and part of that was making Mouse a freelance editor. When she finds and reads through her step-grandfather’s manuscript, the editor in her can’t help but make comments. One of my favorites: “I distrusted that semi-colon.”

Mostly, though, I want to write about Bongo, Mouse’s coonhound. Bongo is now my favorite dog in fantasy fiction. He is, first of all, a real dog, and a real hound. If you follow the author on social media, you know she has animals, among them coonhounds, and she’s paid attention. Bongo is not a magical animal friend. He is a real dog, and he remains a real dog, even when he is doing things that ultimately help Mouse and her friend escape from the horrific creatures who imprison them. It was especially important to me that in crucial parts of the book, Mouse holds onto sanity and courage for her dog’s sake. Bongo isn’t Lassie, getting Mouse out of a well; it’s Mouse’s responsibility to take care of her dog.

This is the first adult work I’ve read by Ursula Vernon in her Kingfisher persona, and it won’t be the last. This is a creepy, powerful and weird work, well-executed.

~Marion Deeds

Published in October 2019. When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods in this chilling novel that reads like The Blair Witch Project meets The Andy Griffith Show. 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.