Twisted by Miranda Leek – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
(Note from Patch: Thanks to poppa bookworm for formatting. Fred’s review was held for a while, because the author didn’t feel comfortable about criticism in it. There was opportunity to revise the book itself, but that didn’t happen for months, so now we’re putting it out anyways. Honestly, I think the book concept sounds really fun and imaginative, which can be highly entertaining even combined with horrible execution. Think: Troma movies. I’d pick this up before many mainstream books!)
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Twisted, by Miranda Leek. [2nd edition.] Illustrated by the author.
Bloomington, IN, AuthorHouse, July 2014, trade paperback $26.95 (533 pages), Kindle $3.99.
This novel does not acknowledge that it is a second edition, but if you look at its Amazon.com entry, the first edition, May 2010, is still for sale right under it. The first edition is 376 pages, this is 533 pages, so it has at least been expanded. The first edition identifies the author as 17 years old; by the second, she is 22. Hopefully the four-year difference also includes an improvement in the writing, because the writing is still pretty bad.
The concept is certainly unique, as far as I know: anthropomorphic amusement park rides! The hero is Railrunner, a red roller coaster. The villain is Ironwheel, a black roller coaster. The setting is “Amusement Park Between”, a dimension consisting only of a vast world inhabited solely of living amusement park rides. The narrator is Rodney Philips, a young man whose previous employer has gone out of business and who is desperate for any kind of new job. He answers a newspaper advertisement for Mystic Park’s new roller coaster engineer, and learns that he is perfect for the job — in fact, he is a were-roller coaster!
Twisted introduces more than anthropomorphic roller coasters, particularly when it moves into “Part Two: The Land of Wonder and War”; the world of Amusement Park Between. There are Merrylegs, a gaudy carousel unicorn; Static, a blue-&-green dodgem car; Moonhoof, another carousel horse; Angeltrack, Railrunner’s mother (yes, Railrunner is freaked out at realizing that he was born as a baby roller coaster by a roller coaster mother); Freakshow, Ironwheel’s roller coaster general; Havoctrack, a salty roller coaster sea captain; Spiderleg, an eight-hydraulic-armed spider ride; a nameless go-kart, and many others. There is the whole world, which is much more than just an endless amusement park:
“I poured myself another round of wine. ‘What is that?’ I queried.
‘Where all red roller coasters have called home: the sacred Temple of the Red. There is where Thunderbark will train you, and that, Railrunner, is where you will fully discover all of what you are. The Temple is about a two-day journey from here. It lies beneath the surface of the great Achterbahn River, within the island of Quinet, past the town of Trenzon. The temple is an amazing thing, made entirely of gold, a castle fit for a king and his nobles.” (p. 155)
Er – I’m having a hard time visualizing a solid-gold castle-temple beneath a river. In fact …
Twisted is one of those rare novels that you can nitpick to pieces all day, and it still remains surprisingly readable.
The writing is outrageously padded. Here, Rodney is driving to his new job interview, in the countryside:
“The song that was playing [on the car radio] faded into an untraceable silence as it ended. I reached down to swap stations, for I hated listening to commercials that were useless and that just rambled on and on about medical procedures to make one look better. My fingers continued to fiddle with the dial, turning it this way and that as I was trying to catch a good tune. I came across a song that I had not heard since I could remember. I settled on it and then turned my attention back to the outstretched road, which was void of any passersby.” (p. 7)
This is completely incidental. If the author wanted to refer to Rodney listening to the car radio at all while driving to his interview, a very brief one-sentence mention would cover it. All the detail about changing stations, and why he changed stations, is extraneous. Any editor at a mainstream publisher would recommend cutting this to make a tighter novel. But it does read smoothly, and the detail fleshes out the personality of Rodney.
The writing is grandiloquent. Here, Woody, Rodney’s mentor (who turns out to be Thunderbark, a snow-white were-coaster), tells him about Amusement Park Between’s history:
“As I was saying, the rides of Between are beasts. However, they are civilized enough that their lifestyle is identical to man’s. In fact, they are much smarter. Between was a beautiful and peaceful place until an evil tyrant known as Ironwheel slaughtered its king and took over Between, casting a dark and hopeless shadow full of nothing but desolation. Due to poor treatment in his previous life, Ironwheel’s mission is to enslave humans as well as his own kind in nothing but pure revenge.” (p. 15)
Does anyone really talk like that? Did they ever? But it does increase the melodrama.
The story constantly relies upon incredible coincidence. The company for which Rodney works goes bankrupt; he needs a new job; he just happens to see a want ad for an amusement park roller coaster engineer (an extremely specialized job at which he has no experience); he applies for it; and he is exactly the unaware were-roller coaster that “they” have been searching for all over Earth for decades!
It’s based on stereotypes. Here, Rodney turns into Railrunner for the first time:
“The crazed creature then leaped down from the building and on top of the parked ambulance, smashing it in his path. He threw his head back and roared loudly in pleasure. The frightened humans ran into the streets and some into the bar, their screams filling the crisp night air. It was sweet music to Railrunner. He then scaled down from the ambulance and crashed through the bar’s windows. His teeth savagely tore at any casualty, reducing the pub’s interior to bits. The owner of the bar, Geoffrey Calloway, a man whose life was into his muse of good brews, threw a beer bottle at Railrunner’s head; it smashed into a thousand pieces, yet the glass didn’t scratch Railrunner’s metal. He paused and then turned to bare his fangs at the man, who was now realizing his grave mistake.” (p. 27)
This is a standard werewolf attack scene from a horror movie! Rodney/Railrunner is the Good Guy; so why is his first action after turning were to savagely attack every human around? Yes, Leek does give a reason (several pages later), but it’s really just because every stereotypical werewolf novel and movie describes the werewolf as a savage, unthinking beast who slaughters every human that it encounters. So let’s copy the stereotype wholesale for were-roller coasters. And is Rodney’s girlfriend Clare ever the stereotypical clueless Damsel in Distress, walking into danger and needing to be rescued nearly every time she appears! But they are exciting scenes.
Leek’s phrasing is mediocre and often puzzling. Here, Rodney is visited by Clare:
“It was my longtime girlfriend of many years, Clare Winestead. I had known the beautiful girl since high school. She was the most authentic person I had ever known. Ever since we came across one another after college, after being apart for several years, we were dating just like every other young couple that was madly in love. I swallowed back a wad of fear and opened the door, still distraught, knowing that my condition could come between us and put her at high risk.” (p. 36)
And from the next page, when Clare talks about the TV news reports of the monster:
“‘It’s been on the news since the five o’clock am run.’
‘What do you think about it?’ I interrogated.”
What is an “authentic person”? Is “longtime girlfriend of many years” redundant? Is “interrogated” really the right word? Mark Twain said in an 1888 letter, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” One suspects that Leek could have improved her phrasing. Page 132: “By then, the FBI and the police forces would have their starving hands on us.” Starving hands? Page 133: “I swallowed back a wad of regret.” There are a lot of wads-of here. Some of her imagery is just incredible. A roller coaster wearing a trench coat to disguise itself? But Leek’s phrasing is colorful. Allowing for some eyebrow-raising statements, it’s rather unique. You aren’t likely to come across it elsewhere.
So, despite Twisted’s many flaws (including just plain sloppy contradictions: Clare’s last name is Winestead on page 36 and Wellington on page 67; Rodney is usually an adolescent (although he has finished college) but he refers on page 42 to “almost four decades of my past”), it is recommended for its fast-moving action, its many dramatic scenes, and its unique setting: the world of living amusement park rides. Every so often, amidst all the mediocrity, Twisted bursts into rewarding, vivid magic. Here is Rodney, experiencing his first journey as a roller coaster:
“Wind whipped my face as I sped down the vast hill. Power was now at its greatest point. It felt as if I could never be restrained. Racing along at blinding speeds, I rocketed up the next hill and jumped the rails, only to land on the base of the next rise. Instinct propelled me forward. My body rounded a helix, leaving the rails once anew and doing a move that a pro skateboarder would envy. Only this was a different matter; I was my own wheels.” (p. 97)
It’s much better than a long list of novels that are truly unreadable. (Cue my stock complaint about Solarion: A Romance, by Edgar Fawcett (September 1889); a hysterical Victorian anti-scientific diatribe (scientists are all Godless Satanists, you know) featuring Solarion, the unbelievably pure and noble talking golden retriever.) Call Twisted a guilty pleasure. Have fun counting the places where you would have written it better. But don’t ignore it.
Twisted comes to a definite and satisfying conclusion, but Leek says that she is writing a sequel; Vertigo. So if you should like Twisted, you can prepare to return to the dramatic and colorful world of Between.
Leek’s “About the Author” says that she is a graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Her illustrations in Twisted, especially her cover painting, are much better than her writing, and portray her fantastic characters – an additional reason to not pass up this book. To view more of Leek’s work, see www.mirandasmagic.com, or society6.com/Miranda Leek. Also “like” Twisted on Facebook: www.facebook.com/twistedrollercoaster
Postscript: This review was originally submitted in December 2014. Leek asked us to postpone it for long enough for her to revise the novel to remove the passages that I’ve criticized. It’s still on sale on Amazon.com with all of its pluses and minuses – more pluses than minuses, in my opinion. So it’s not perfect; what first novel is? I enjoyed it despite its flaws; unless you’re super-nitpicky, you should, too.