Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review - Oliver Twisted by JD Sharpe

I'll assume everyone is familiar with the plot of Oliver Twist so won't go in to the plot details of the Dickens classic on which Sharpe's gruesome reinterpretation is based. Suffice to say, the cover and tagline ('Please sir, I want some gore') pretty much sums up what Oliver Twisted is all about. I.e. the misadventures of Oliver as he lurches from workhouse to undertakers to London, with added blood, guts, vampyres, werewolves and 'woe-begottens' (what a fantastic, Victorian-esque way to describe your monstrous villians, by the way).

There is much to admire about Sharpe's horror tale. It cracks along at a fair old pace, barely pausing for breath as it speeds from one high octane set piece to another. The style of the book, written as it is for teenagers, is far less formal than anything Dickens would've churned out, and I for one am all for that: his trademark lachrymose sentimentality is notable by its absence here. Whilst Sharpe is broadly faithful to the original story, she deftly avoids falling in to the trap of being slavishly so. Without giving too much away, the fates of some of the central characters aren't the same as that in Dickens' tale. Again, this is a good thing, as it allows her room for manouevere.

Alas, for all its merits there are notable faults in Oliver Twisted as well. The novel is surprisingly short on humour, which as we all know is one of Dickens' strengths. If you're going to pay homage to the great man, then why not use narrative techniques that made the original story so timeless? As it is, the po-faced reference to some of the sillier fantastical elements (e.g. 'the Knights of Nostradamus'...I mean, really?) became wearing after a while. The bigger problem, though, is in Oliver himself. Whilst somewhat feisty, he still comes across too much like a victim. Without wanting to give too much away, he spends a lot of the second half of the novel being utterly useless. In this day and age, we want our YA heroes in horror novels to be butt kicking Valkyrie Cain's, not helpless wet lettuces.

Oliver Twisted is an entertaining and well-written read, but unfortunately isn't all it promised to be. As admirable as Sharpe's concept is, the nagging suspicion that this sort of thing has been done before, and better, looms large over her book: witness, for instance, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Nonetheless, Sharpe is an author of some promise, and I sincerely hope she finds a compelling story to tell in her own right for her next effort.


  1. If someone can emulate Charles Dickens perfectly I'll be a fully paid-up member of their fan club! The premise looks promising, certainly, and would probably make me read it but I'll think carefully about that now. thanks for the review!

  2. You're welcome. I will say right now that she doesn't really try to emulate Dickens, at least not this writing style!