The Twistrose Key by by Tone Almhjell was published in 2013 – I read it over the course of about a week during November 2016.
Almhjell is Norwegian, and after some googling I learned that while she did write the book in her native language she ultimately published the novel in English. I think this is relevant because there are a lot of assumptions made about something being “lost in translation” with this book. I don’t think anything is lost in translation.
I just think this book is very particular to an audience of children who are coping with a very specific kind of growing up.
The Twistrose Key begins with Lin – a girl moved from her comfortable country home to the city, and shortly after her pet vole dies. Lin is lonely, unhappy, and missing the life she knew. Then a mysterious key is slipped in through the post slot, one that leads not only to the mysterious basement of their rental house, but another key made of thorns and vines that leads her into the world of Sylver. Sylver is a land of dreams, nightmares, love, and wishes. Lin finds on the other side and near the city of Sylveros – the place where any pet who has loved a child goes when they die. Lin is reunited with her vole, Rufus, and also finds that she is a Twistrose – a child called into the world of Sylver in a time of great danger to complete a quest. Lin, Rufus, and a host of Petlings and clues must save Sylver from the Margrave before the enchanted star, the Wanderer, passes out of the valley trapping Lin in Sylver and dooming it to destruction.
This book is sad and hopeful and a weird mix of things that are hard to describe. It has a different sensibility than a lot of books and I can’t even articulate it. It’s a bit slow moving and I don’t think I always had the information I needed to fully invest in the actions Lin and Rufus were taking. The two of them have a strong bond and it comes across so clearly, but I didn’t always understand why they did things. I didn’t understand entirely why Rufus made some of the choices he did, and I felt some of those things really led Lin astray in regard to the story overall.
The mythology of Sylver feels very complete – there could easily be many more stories in the universe of Sylver that seems to be the basis of Almhjell’s latest release – Thornghost. I like that the internal logic of the magic of Sylver holds – I don’t ever get knocked out of the suspension of disbelief when the magic is happening. Almhjell is so detailed – so many little things come back later, or have greater meaning and if a reader picks up on that early it makes it easy to see certain things coming. It does not make some of those things any less tense, or eerie as is the case with the first time we see the real villain of the story.
Sometimes the pacing is a little off, but the story really picks up halfway through and has a very sad, smooth finish. One of my favorite aspects of this book was how important friendships are, and how important it is to connect with others and know that you can trust them. Communication is such an essential part of this story, and I appreciate her focus on that.
Fans of Narnia will definitely enjoy this novel. I’m going 3/5 because it took me a long time to get into it, but it would be an excellent book to read out loud to a child, particularly after the loss of a beloved pet. It’s a book that gives hope, and that’s a wonderful thing.