The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell
Genre: Middle Grade, fantasy
Published on October 22, 2013
Published by Dial
Read From: 11.10.13 - 11.13.13
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 flower bed, even in a rainstorm. 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 that 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 one 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.
Characters: Lin is adventurous, curious, intelligent, and therefore the ideal protagonist for a Middle Grade story. I would have questioned her absolute readiness to jump headlong into an adventure without preparation or question, but she's a kid. Somewhat to my surprise, I actually didn't attach all that much to Rufus. That isn't to say other Readers won't, because I think they will. It's just compared to other animal characters that I have encountered in books, he wasn't my favorite. He's loyal and brave, which I appreciated and I think other Readers really will, too. But out of the animal characters in The Twistrose Key, I did really like Teodor, the gruff, knowledgeable, and deep down kind fox. The Margrave was very spooky, but not nearly in the story enough. And Figenskar could so very easily be my cat when he dies and goes to live in Sylver; an evil, conniving feline.
The Romance: There isn't any!
Plot: Ever since her pet vole Rufus died, Lin has been devastated. He was her bestest companion, and they did everything together. But she's soon distracted from her grief when a mysterious package arrives at the house she and her parents have moved into. Inside the package is a rose-shaped key, which opens a strange portal in the all of the basement. When Lin is sucked through the portal, it's to find her beloved Rufus on the other side, grown to her size, able to talk, and walking an two legs like a human! Welcome to Sylver - the snow-covered land where animals loved by children come to live after they die. Lin has been called to Sylver to save it - and her world. Because Sylver is a place where children's dead pets go to live, it is kept alive by children's dreams and hopes and wishes, and the Wandergate must be kept open for these good feelings to keep Sylver alive. But Isvan, a boy with magical powers, has gone missing, and without him to conjure the Wandersnow that opens the gate, Sylver is lost. When the land of Sylver is in need, a Twistrose is summoned - a child destined to save Sylver. Lin is such a child, and she has until midnight to find Isvan so he can cast the Wandersnow. But enemies are lurking. Some do not want the Wandersnow to happen. Others want to use Lin's power as a Twistrose for nefarious means, and open the barrier that keeps Sylver separated from the land of Nightmares. I have to admit that the concept of Sylver - a place where dead pets went, grew to human size, wore human clothes, lived in human houses, ate human food, and basically lived human lives - was a little weird and slightly disturbing. But after a while, the whimsical, enchanting winter world swept me away. Reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Golden Compass, and Redwall, this is the perfect kids' Christmas read. While it doesn't exactly take place during Christmas, the whole land of Sylver has a very festive feel, with hot chocolate and yummy goodies, snow and sledding and a winter-like festival. I just loved it! There were even moments where the story was genuinely grim. It wasn't overly dark, but it took some serious turns that had me worried about who would survive until the end. That being said, The Twistrose Key could have been more. I didn't get hugely attached to any of the animal characters, so I didn't get emotional when there was the potential of one of them dying. Sylver is a gorgeous and rich world that I delighted in exploring, but there lacked a bit of something in its presentation. The Margrave presented an ideal villain who was actually rather creepy, but he was hardly in the story. However, the whereabouts of Isvan kept me guessing, I didn't fully grasp why Figenskar wanted Lin, and I did momentarily doubt the loyalty of one of the characters.
Writing Style: Third person, past tense. I don't mean to be critical of the Author's style, because I did overall enjoy it. Appropriate for the intended age, whimsical, and also a tad dark when it needed to be, it fit the story very well. However, I would like to see what this book might have been like if Cornelia Funke had written it. The premise and the world itself fit her sort of genre so well, and I just know her particular style would have made this story just absolutely explode. Again, I am not trying to hold the Author next to an impossible measure; Tone Almhjell did a very good job. But I am curious . . .
Conclusion: This isn't a slow book by any means, even when we're just exploring Sylver. But when Lin and Rufus must venture into the land of the Nightmares, things really pick up. Plots come together, motivations are revealed, and the Reader must seriously consider for a moment whether or not Lin will actually succeed. But there were a few things that niggled at me. Namely, how short of a time the Margrave is in the story. I loved his back story, and he was a very interesting villain. Why couldn't we have seen more of him? And then there was the caravan sled, which sort of just appears, and it struck me a little . . . odd and a tiny bit random that a sled with a personality just suddenly pops up. Hm. Even so, The Twistrose Key was a really fun, fast Christmas read (even if I technically didn't read it during Christmas; I will next year).
Recommended Audience: Girl-and-boy read, nine-to-thirteen. This will be a favorite for fans of animal fiction, Cornelia Funke, and fantasy. A terrific Christmas gift idea!