I twisted myself around like the twisted ones, and I lay flat on the ground like the dead ones.
Melissa, or Mouse as everyone calls her, is a freelance editor living in Pittsburgh. When she gets a call from her elderly father asking her to clean out her recently deceased grandmother’s home in North Carolina she goes because that is what her family does when asked: they help. When Mouse arrives at the house in the woods, with her hound Bongo in tow, she learns to her horror that her grandmother, in addition to being a horrid woman, was also a hoarder. As Mouse cleans out the house she finds the diary of her stepgrandfather Cotgrave who died years before. What she initially dismisses as the ravings of a lunatic becomes harder to ignore as she starts having her own terrifying experiences in the house and surrounding woods. The diary references a manuscript with more details, itself the recount of something called the Green Book which is hidden away in the house, buried under the junk and the hoard.
By the second night reading The Twisted Ones I was having nightmares. I often have nightmares when reading horror, which is why I like to reserve it for daytime reading in some cases. This was one of those cases. The repeated litany of “I twisted myself around like the twisted ones…” that Mouse finds in Cotgrave’s diary sneaks into your subconscious and lay coiled like a snake during daytime hours. At night, in the dark, in the twilight of half-sleep, it comes awake. I had to literally tell my brain “No.” at one point when it kept trying to return to the refrain as I woke up in the middle of the night. This is powerful stuff. The true wonder of The Twisted Ones is that it is a dark fairy tale at its core told through a modern lens by a narrator that is as unremarkable as you or I. She is trying to hold it together and save herself and her dog when it seems all hope is lost. Her mind keeps trying to reject what she is seeing and even as the full scope of the horror is unfolding around her she still reacts like a person would when faced with utter monstrosities and unfathomable terror. She dissembles, her thoughts move in tangents, she has to keep remembering what she is seeing is real before it tears her apart.
I don’t remember what I thought in that moment. Something that allowed me to not scream or go mad, I suppose – it’s not real. I’m dreaming, or if it’s really there, it’s trying to scare me, they’ve dragged that awful thing on the porch as a prank –
It turned its head.
It moved like a living thing, like a great bird, turning the skull head on the hanging folds of neck. It turned and looked at me.
There is a conversational aspect to the narrative that rings true. Mouse is not so much holding on to her sanity as simply bearing through what is happening as well as she can. I am leaving vague the nature of the horror because it sounds less interesting when described than to experience it. The Twisted Ones is old-school horror. There is some gore but not in the way you expect. The actual violence is low, the horror is in the idea of what is in the woods. What it is doing and what it wants. The unknowing is the source of the terror and Kingfisher captures that feeling of child-like terror brilliantly. The book is also surprisingly light at times with a small cast of supporting, but memorable characters along for the ride.
This is a must read novel for fans of dark fantasy and horror.