THE TWISTED ONES, by Ursula Vernon writing as T. Kingfisher, is an enjoyable horror story that hits all the right notes. While the payoff is lighter than I would have liked, the story is carried through by the premise’s mystery and the power of good writing.
Told in first person by a young woman nicknamed Mouse, the story begins with her father asking her to drive to rural North Carolina to clean up her grandmother’s house after she passed away. It turns out grandma, whom Mouse remembers as downright cruel, was also a hoarder. During the endless cleaning, she comes across her step-grandfather’s journal, in which he describes the “twisted ones” living nearby and their mysterious purpose. Mouse dismisses the writings as the product of dementia until she finds the strange stones herself, and soon she finds herself embroiled with another, darker world.
The setup is fantastic, the payoff not so much for this reader. When Mouse finally entered the other world, it unraveled more like dark fantasy than horror, and I never really felt like the protagonist was in danger. For me, the other world was more enjoyable in my imagination than as it was revealed. While the last act didn’t quite come through for me, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The use of first-person narration is done perfectly, the relationship between Mouse and her dog is charming and authentic, we’re assured at the start of the story the dog comes through okay at the end (probably a smart narrative choice), the pacing in the first two acts is a perfect slow burn, the sense of mystery is great, and Mouse’s interaction with the growing creepiness unrolls realistically.
Overall, I found THE TWISTED ONES to be fresh, engaging dark fiction told around a simple premise.