Twisted!

Twisted

Before I begin describing this book to you, I want you to be fully aware that I am making none of this up. This is not some kind of fever dream or drug trip or wild fantasy. This book is real. And it’s spectacular.

Twisted! is the debut novel of Miranda Leek and was first published in 2010. It is a fantasy novel about anthropomorphic theme park rides. If you feel that you need a moment to let that settle in, I’ll fully understand. I’ll still be here when you get back. The novel is the first part of a planned series although a release date has not yet been announced for its sequel, which has been provisionally titled Vertigo.

Somewhere parallel to our world lies the Amusement Park Between. This is the place where rides go if they are destroyed or put into storage. The world was once beautiful and peaceful until a cruel roller coaster named Ironwheel took control. Feeling hatred towards everyone, he killed the King and allowed his army of Fallen to sweep the land, torturing and oppressing all of the good rides.

Rodney Philips has grown up completely unaware of the Between’s existence. In fact, he believed himself to be a completely ordinary human until the day that he went for a job interview at a theme park. It was there that he met Thunderbark, an elderly wooden roller coaster in human form, who revealed to him the truth. He is actually Railrunner – the only red steel roller coaster in existence – and he is destined to save the Between.

Although Rodney understandably does not believe him, he slips on the roller coaster tracks and inadvertently activates his ride form. That night he transforms for the first time, becoming a savage bio-mechanical monster and going on a bloody rampage across town. As the nights pass, he gradually begins to get control of himself but his life is left in ruins. The police and FBI now want him dead, he is terrified that he might murder his girlfriend Clare and Thunderbark is determined that he will return to the Between to battle Ironwheel. But first, he must come to terms with what he is. He is no longer Rodney. He is Railrunner, a twisted roller coaster.

Do you need to take another minute? I certainly do…

In all seriousness, just the fact that this novel exists makes me very happy. Whichever way you look at it, it’s just such an original concept. There are a billion stories about werewolves, werecats and even weredragons. Why not weremachines? For all this novel’s faults (and we’ll get to those shortly), I have to really admire Leek’s imagination. Her creations are so unique and the Between is incredibly memorable. I was surprised and impressed by the depth of the author’s world-building. Leek had evidently thought out every aspect about the Between, ranging from the biological processes of the rides to their economy, making the world utterly engaging.

I also feel a need to talk about the artwork in this book. Generally, I don’t mention stuff like this as this isn’t an art blog (I’m interested in the stories, not the aesthetic qualities of the books) but Leek’s illustrations are incredibly good. Both the ebook and paperback contain many pencil sketches of the characters and it’s clear that this is where Leek’s talents truly lie. While the art sometimes contains contradictions that confused me a little (in some of the pictures Railrunner is bipedal but in others he is a centipede-like creature with many legs), it is still ever so imaginative. If you want to see some examples of Leek’s art, you can check out her DeviantART gallery.

But, unfortunately, for all of the originality of Twisted!’s concept, it is by no means a good novel. Firstly, the story is very clichéd. Strip it of its flashy cover and what’s left is the tried and tested fantasy formula – Joe Average discovers that he is a magical chosen one and saves the world from an evil overlord. It does not really bring anything new to this concept that we have never seen before. The plot is filled with magical convenience and ramps up to a climatic dual between good and evil which contains not one, but two magical deus ex machinas (one of which was not even eluded to previously in the story) in order to save the day.

The book is also overly long, weighing in at well over 500 pages. While there are very good debut novels that are longer than the average phone directory, this is not the case for Twisted!. The novel is filled with sections that could have been cut out in order to streamline the story. For example, Clare gets mugged / almost raped on three separate occasions in the story and needs to be rescued by Railrunner each time. Did this really need to occur more than once? Additionally the heroes pursue Ironwheel to the real world around the 70% mark but then spend the next 100 pages or so messing around – eating and going on dates – while making no effort to locate him. Ironwheel is a maniac who wants to enslave humanity. Shouldn’t killing him be priority one? I really think that a severe cut (or maybe even splitting the novel in two) is necessary in order to streamline the story.

Yet the most noticeable problem with the text is the grammar. More than anything else, Twisted! is in need of a good proof read and edit. The text is just clunky, filled with spelling mistakes (“vile” instead of “file”), incorrect word uses (Leek frequently uses the word “genocide” to describe any sort of killing. Last time I checked, slaughtering a dozen cops does not constitute wiping out a race) and just generally poor use of the English language (“My legs grew anesthetized at the sight of Ironwheel perched upon the clock tower like the infamous King Kong”). At times, I found this to actually be somewhat amusing but the humour is unintentional as it’s purely generated by how bad the prose is. The perspective randomly flips between first and third between chapters for no discernible reason, characters take the time to fully explain the plot to one another on request for the benefit of those who were not present in earlier chapters and sentences are plagued with redundant descriptions (“his eyes were ablaze in an inferno”). I firmly believe that any serious writer should ensure that their work is fully cleaned up before they put it up for sale. After all, it’s unfair to expect that readers will fork out their good money on something that’s not been carefully edited.

Finally, the story has severe issues with characterisation. The cast are memorable largely because of the fact that they’re roller coasters. Beyond this, they are shallow and incredibly clichéd. On a basic level, characters in the story are divided into good and bad. This is clear cut, straight down the middle. If you are a decommissioned ride, you are good. If you were destroyed (even accidentally), you are one of the Fallen. These rides are evil to the core – dirty, ugly and smelly. There is no sense of personal choice, they are simply evil due to their cause of “death”. This is really, really weak. The bad characters in the novel, Ironwheel included, are evil purely because they’re born that way. For me, a good villain is one that could be the hero of his own story. I simply did not feel this from Ironwheel, Freakshow or any other of the bad guys in Twisted!.

The good guys were not much better. Thunderbark was the wise old man archetype, yet was also strangely inconsistent. He seemed to suffer from extreme mood swings, punching Railrunner one minute and hugging him the next. Clare was also a despicably weak heroine. She really contributed nothing to the story, existing as nothing more than a “frail human” for Railrunner to rescue again and again. I would have loved to see her get a little more development. There was so much scope for this as she discovers early in the novel that her boyfriend is a flesh eating machine. There could have been soul searching and drama but, alas, no. Instead she forgives Railrunner for all of his sins instantly and remains staunchly loyal to him, even when he disappears for weeks at a time and flat up murders some people right in front of her. It baffles me how a female author can still write such shallow female characters in this day and age but, unfortunately, this story is not kind to Clare.

However, most importantly, we have Railrunner. My goodness, I could write a whole essay on him. Railrunner is roller coaster Jesus (no kidding, someone actually does make this similarity within the story). Because he’s the legendary red roller coaster, he’s apparently the most powerful creature in the Between. Leek shows this by giving him the power to control pretty much everything. By the end of the story he can summon fire and lightning, bend metal to his will, have prophetic dreams, sense when people are lying, fire a concussive blast of energy and heal virtually instantly among others. In fact, every difficult situation is resolved in the novel by Railrunner immediately discovering he has some new innate power to get through the situation. It seems weird to say this about a roller coaster but Railrunner is the biggest Gary-Stu I’ve ever seen.

He’s also a completely psychotic. The biggest thing that I struggled with when reading this novel is just how many people Railrunner murders. Particularly in the first quarter of the novel, Railrunner pretty much kills every human he encounters. This is not self-defence (we are told early on that only a roller coaster can kill a roller coaster). It’s purely because he loves killing. Yet Leek tries to make us sympathise with him. Railrunner is supposed to be the tortured hero, hunted by humans that don’t understand him. Sorry to break this to you, Railrunner, but you keep eating cops. I’m totally siding with the humans on this one. Towards the end of the story, Railrunner even manages to get the FBI to side with him against Ironwheel because their chief somehow comes to the conclusion that the coaster’s murder spree was justified. Just what world is this set in? I’m fairly sure that the FBI don’t let mass murderers off scot-free because they had a very good reason for their crimes.

Wow, sorry, this review is dragging on. I’ve only really scratched the surface of this story but I guess I’ve said enough to give you an idea of what this story is like. I would be lying if I called Twisted! a good novel. It’s poorly written, far too long and full of unoriginal and overpowered characters. Yet, I would still recommend it to everyone. Twisted! is like a bad horror movie – it somehow is just so awful that it’s genius. The writing is so bad in places that it gains an unintentional humour and the whole concept of were-roller coasters is unique and wildly entertaining. I genuinely can’t wait until the sequel comes out and look forward to bringing you a review of this novel at a later date.

Twisted! can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Red Sun | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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