book reviews, children's fiction, Chronicles of Narnia, fantasy, MG, MG fantasy, MG fiction, middle grade, middle grade fantasy, middle grade fiction, Norway, Norwegian fiction, pets, The Twistrose Key, Tone Almhjell, Twistrose Key
The grave that Lin had made for her friend could not be touched by wind. Above, the dripping rosebush flailed, scratching its thorns at the wall. But the whittled cross of twigs and string did not so much as shiver. Instead a lick of rime had crept up to cover the wood with white. Later, Lin Rosenquist would remember this as a sign, the first.
“Something is wrong in the house that Lin’s family has rented; Lin is sure of it. The clocks tick too slowly. Frost covers the flowerbed, even in a rain storm. And when a secret key marked “Twistrose” arrives for her, Lin finds a crack in the cellar, a gate to the world of Sylver. This frozen realm is the home of every dead animal who ever loved a child. Lin is overjoyed to be reunited with Rufus, the pet she buried under the rosebush. But together they must find the missing Winter Prince in order to save Sylver from destruction. They are not the only ones hunting for the boy this night. In the dark hides a shadow-lipped man, waiting for the last Winter Prince to be delivered into his hands.”
The Twistrose Key looked so, so good when I first heard about it, like a middle grade novel that could be enjoyed by everyone. And then Laini Taylor raved about it, and I heard that it was Norwegian, and I saw how beautiful the book was (the photo doesn’t do it justice). The book is not, perhaps, great, but The Twistrose Key is nonetheless a mix of all the best elements; read one of Laini Taylor’s posts about it here.
In another summary, I saw The Twistrose Key compared to The Golden Compass and The Chronicles of Narnia, and a mix of the two is about accurate. The style is completely different from The Golden Compass, but although I don’t remember the latter very well, both highlight the deep bonds between children and their pets (or their daemons, which are admittedly slightly different). In the case of The Golden Compass, however, the bond is so much more fierce and primal; The Twistrose Key is tame by comparison. It’s is definitely much more similar to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; there are talking animals and a young girl who goes from her world to their perpetually frozen one. And of course there’s a deadline; there’s always a deadline before which a certain task must be completed.
I enjoyed this lovely little fairy tale, but it definitely had some issues. For one, the world that Lin enters is a bit silly, with all the dead, beloved pets of children living there as “Petlings”. I didn’t like that name at all; it just sounds so cutesy, although it is a nice idea. The plot and magic in general was a bit silly and vague, though in a comforting sort of way. I feel like the world and the magic could have both been explored further, especially the Winterfyrst, which I didn’t find compelling at all. At times, the writing made things confusing and there was weirdly written dialogue, but for the most part the language and the atmosphere it created was quite charming.
The Twistrose Key is pretty smart for a middle grade novel, and I definitely enjoyed its intelligence. The book is also just gorgeous and from the lovely cover image to the raised gold lettering to the inside jacket art, it completely enchanted me.
I liked the main character, Lin; she’s at an age where she basically accepts all the remarkable things that happen to her without too much questioning. Obviously, she’s surprised to find her pet vole Rufus alive and five feet tall in another world, but Lin also enjoys playing a troll hunting game, so she’s ready to believe in Sylver. Teodor the fox was a great character too, as were some of the other animals that Lin meets.
I would have actually liked a bit more of the book to take place in the real world, in Lin’s strange rental house, presumably in Norway (since that’s where the author’s from). I found the beginning few chapters quite interesting, and her family and home could have been developed more before she leaves them. Alas, it was not to be, but this didn’t bother me too much. On a rather unrelated note: there are some amazing descriptions of food both in Norway and in Sylver, and they were quite mouthwatering.
The overall atmosphere and plot of The Twistrose Key was amazing, but it could have been more focused and stronger in terms of specifics in the world development. I think it would have also been better if there were less branches of magic that were all described in more detail; there are so many different elements and gadgets that it was a bit too much. However, I loved the feel of this book, and I liked it, although I didn’t love it. Ultimately, however, I found that in the hands of a different author this could have been an amazing fantasy novel, but there was just too much crammed into one book. That’s not to say the book is bad, but it could use some work. I look forward to Tone Almhjell’s next creation; hopeful the promise in this one will be better developed.