The Twistrose Key, Middle Grade Fantasy by Tone Almhjell
Series: The Twistrose Key #1
My rating: ⭐️⭐️
Lin Rosenquist is in the doldrums. She’s stuck away from her home, friends, and their awesome games of being troll hunters thanks to her mother’s job. Lin is also still mourning her beloved pet vole Rufus. Then she finds a strange package with the word “Twistrose” scratched into it. Inside, she finds a key, which she uses to unlock a door in the rental house that leads to Sylveros. Sylveros is a snowy magical land where beloved passed-on pets live a rather chill second life as enlarged semi-anthropomorphic talking animals.
Twistrose is at first a troll hunter code name that Lin thinks she made up, but it turns out to be the title of a special child who is called to save Sylveros in its hour of need. They get to team up with their pet–called a Petling–and basically have a land-saving adventure. After which, they get a statue and go home through the Wandergate.
The world-building is mostly made up of details and some stories told by some of the wiser characters. The stories aren’t too intrusive or info-dumpy, and the world is a decent fantasy land of what I might call the pocket size variety. A lot of people will think of Narnia, but I thought it was more like Darkbeast. It’s just not complex enough to compare to Narnia. And no bad thing. I quite loved Darkbeast.
For at least the first half, the book meanders while accomplishing next to nothing. The world-building is the only entertaining thing going on. Rufus is a bland character for that first half, if not the entire book, so I wasn’t terribly invested in Lin’s reunion or relationship with him. The task that Lin is given isn’t all that interesting, and it’s not that easy to see why it’s so important.
She’s told that she has to save another Sylveros type of creature that is not a Petling, Isvan the last of the Wynterfyrsts, who is basically a human made of ice magic. Despite the fact that Isvan is mostly characterised by other secondhand accounts and speculation, I found him to be nicely sympathetic. When the plot actually kicks in and they’re doing more active searching for him and less investigation, the pacing picks up and there seems to be more confidence overall.
Then as it ramps into the second half or last third, it all sort of… gets tired and collapses like candy floss giving up in a strong wind. The action jerks to a halt, and then a lot of revelations are dumped out without sufficient foreshadowing beforehand. There’s a character death that infuriated me because it happened very quickly and for the dumbest reason that could have possibly explained anything. Everything basically works out in the end, and I came out with any respect for the narrative structure of the story, but it’s hard to get over a move of such pococurante stupidity.
Overall, I was left with an impression of a decent idea set in a fairly rich world but without a great deal of substance. Usually when I read a Middle Grade book that doesn’t wow me, I first consider if it’s the fact that I’ve long since left the age of the target audience. Sometimes it is, but I don’t think this is one of those times. If I were younger, I might have overlooked some things, like Rufus’s disappointing lack of depth or the unusual smallness of the magical world. But I wouldn’t have missed pointless asides or departures from the plot.