An upper-middle–grade story that builds on (but is not a sequel to) the premise of The Twistrose Key (2013).
Twelve-year-old Niklas Summerhill, a black-haired, blue-eyed white boy, lives on the family farm (also called Summerhill) in a Scandinavia-like setting with Grandma Alma and Uncle Anders. His mother, Erika, died seven years earlier and refused to see him on her deathbed, saying she was a Thornghost, something Niklas doesn’t understand. Now, his mother comes to him in recurring nightmares, and creepy things are happening near the farm. While exploring a cave to try to find the source of whatever is tainting Summerhill, Niklas and a talking lynx named Secret stumble into the ruins of Jewelgard—a fantasy world where Petlings and Wildlings (animal companions of children in Niklas’ world) go after they die. But trolls and other dark magic have taken over Jewelgard and infiltrated the Rosa Torquata—the twisted rose—that keeps the world safe. Almhjell unspools this cryptic mystery with enormous skill and economy but leans heavily on description and action for impact, and the development of truly emotionally resonant characters suffers as a result. Some details are inconsistent: when Niklas bites into a “diamond apple,” the “shards crackle with just the right twist, while the flesh melts,” but then he “licks the diamond shard, careful not to slice his tongue.”
This companion is intriguingly and skillfully told, helping to mitigate the less-than-stellar character development. (Fantasy. 10-14)