Because Garth Nix is one of the authors for Troubletwisters, I went into this reading with lofty hopes. Herein lies the problem with great expectations: They can set you up for disappointment. Yes, I was a little disappointed. Troubletwisters is not a bad book, mind you. It’s a good book, and I enjoyed reading it. But in the end, I was left wanting more. Though to be fair, I’m not the targeted audience. Unlike Sabriel, my favorite Nix novel, Troubletwisters will not find broad appeal among all ages. However, in the hands of a child, especially a nine- or ten-year-old boy, this is likely a four star book.
Jack and Jaide are twelve-year-old twins whose appearances are as different as night and day. At the story’s beginning, you find them bickering and competing as all siblings do. They seem like ordinary kids. But when their Dad finally shows up (late again!) and the twins get a mysterious letter from their grandmother, the reader is curious and eager to learn more.
One thing the novel does well is address the questions that a reader might have in a manner that keeps the plot twists and turns from feeling contrived. Many times the answers to these questions are grounded in logic. For instance, when the twins ask their mother how long they will stay with their grandmother after their house explodes, her answer makes sense: Long enough to wait for the insurance money to come through and the house to be rebuilt, she says. This realistic detail lends credibility to the plot. And, pay close attention, because things that are mentioned in passing may come into play later.
Troubletwisters also succeeds in setting up a mystery and building suspense. As the twins learn more about their unusual grandmother, whose strange house (complete with talking cats) is vividly drawn, both their experiences and Grandma X become increasingly creepy. Might she be a witch?! The narrator shares Jack’s worry: “it could be the gingerbread house all over again, and mad or not, he didn’t fancy being Hansel….” The details gradually unfold as the twins gain more knowledge. Grandma X is at once fascinating and frightening. She seems omnipresent, faster than she should be, and she talks to cats! The cats — Ari(stotle) and Kleo(patra) — are great characters, by the way. To some degree, I was more intrigued by Grandma X and the cats than by the heroic twin duo.
Once the mystery is revealed, the story pales a bit. Troubletwisters left me wanting more imagination and originality. Though the early promise is there, it never quite comes to fruition. Young readers’ interests, however, will increase as the novel progresses and the action builds. And once the adventure begins, the reader is in for loads of creepy, skin-crawling descriptions of evil-possessed ants, flies, rats, cockroaches, piercing white eyes, and other sometimes scary, but always icky stuff.
This is a story of two gifted children who are caught in the classic struggle of good vs. evil. Over the course of Troubletwisters, Jack and Jaide learn who they are, what their gifts are, and how to use them. And, perhaps most importantly, by story’s end they’ve learned to work together. Their magical gifts complement each other like yin and yang. And it’s in working together that they are strongest.
By the conclusion, most of Jack and Jaide’s questions have been answered, but there is some lingering mystery. And there are characters like Grandma X’s friend, Rodeo Dave, and the town schoolteacher Mr. Carver, or “Heath,” as he insists we call him, whom we are merely introduced to. Troubletwisters is the first in what is to be a 5-book series, so I’m sure we’ll see more of them. And this is where I hope my expectations will find fulfillment. This series could be one of those instances where the first installment serves to lay the groundwork for greater things to come. And I look forward to finding out what’s in store.