Treading Twisted Lines – Book Review

Twisted lines were trod, and very much enjoyed.


I recently starting speaking with a brilliant Australian author called Beth Madden. She and I decided to mutually and honestly review each others works. The ol’ switcharoo, if you will. Now, I have to say I’m not a fan of Beth’s covers, but art’s subjective and we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. All that jazz.

All three books are set within the same obscure future fantasy earth that features wizards and cars with touch screen unlock keys. Like your iPhone. It’s truly a unique setting, and one I’d really, really like to revisit at some point. Hopefully Madden will write a novel set in the same world. We’ll see!

The Chosen voice engaged me in quite a few ways. The author has crafted a world that feels both real and fantastic all at once. I’m still not entirely certain where we’re supposed to be, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. The names feel Japanese, yet the inclusion of wizards is magical. The ‘four free zones’ sound dystopian, and the inclusion of Beethoven means we’re in the real world. I’ve decided that it’s a futuristic fantasy world set on an alternative version of Earth.

Anyway, the setting isn’t the important part of this story – it’s the characters. The general premise is Christine, a student journalist, is being paid to interview Darren Brown (not to be confused with British illusionist and TV personality, Derren Brown – that had me confused for the first few paragraphs) a man who sings with the power of a full choir behind his voice.

Christine is a stern young woman who knows what she wants, and will go to extreme lengths to get it. Whereas Darren is a cocksure, seemingly lazy man whom, on the surface, seems intent to coast through life, not putting much effort in. I won’t say much more about the plot, but these two characters collide in a way that is quite spectacular, and utterly real. The author has done a tremendous job in crafting characters who seem real above all else. For a fantastical setting, that’s really what you want to anchor you.

I did, however, find the story to be quite slow at the beginning. I wasn’t truly engaged until the fifth page or so, and I could understand why someone might stop reading before then. I would urge readers to stick with it though. The setup is well worth the payoff and I found myself at the end wanting to read more. In that sense it feels more like the first chapter of a novel as opposed to a short story but overall serves its purpose. The story is the interview, and the interview is what we get. All questions raised by said interview are to the author’s credit. I just hope she gives us a longer version of Darren Brown and his incredible gift.

A brilliant story, and one I’d certainly recommend. 4/5.

Under the Bright Water was perhaps my favourite in the Treading Twisted series. We follow Kaiyu, a man who suffers from a strange illness/ curse that makes him see dirt and grime where dirt and grime doesn’t exist. The concept is drawn, I assume, from germaphobia – which was my initial suspicion for Kaiyu’s suffering. I thought this to be a brilliant angle to approach a short story from, and one we seldom see. The author then turns this character trait into the driving force of the narrative when Kaiyu discovers a way in which to remain clean: by bathing in the Bright Waters.

Kaiyu himself ( I love that he’s the little boy from The Rat, and the man Darren Brown can hear most strongly in The Chosen Voice, this is fantastically subtle) is a very believable character. He has our instant sympathies in the opening paragraphs, and then continues to become loveable throughout his awkward interactions and his spiral into addiction. I found myself feeling much as the characters in the book feel towards Kai. At first a little dubious, but then very fond of the man. He’s a great character, and the author should be very proud of him.

On characters, however, I feel Under the Bright Water suffers from a few too many of them. The priests and such within the temple get a bit too many. And I found myself a little confused by one or two who only appeared semi-regularly and didn’t seem to add much. They didn’t detract either, but I felt the story didn’t really need some of them.

Overall, Under the Bright Water is a fantastic read, with a great premise, a believable and likeable protagonist, and a satisfying, if not bitter-sweet ending. I truly enjoyed this short story. Everyone should read it.

The Rat is quite a depressing story, and one that – unless you’re a monster – is thoroughly moving. The author plays on our sympathies as we’re dragged across a barren country alongside the Rat and his vindictive father. The Rat is 98% of the time only ever referred to as ‘the Rat’ but is, in fact, a 4 year old boy (Named Kaiyu). But we’re not told that straight away, and the first few pages we’re lead to believe that we’re perhaps following a magic rat that can slurredly speak. It quickly told you everything you needed to know about this child. He physically became a rat in my mind, I thought this was a brilliant stroke by the author.

The Father is another well crafted character, and certainly someone I’d never want to have to meet. I’m not a father myself, but I can’t imagine ever treating my child (or any child) the way he treated his own. He was a character that made my skin crawl, and my stomach flip. Readers be warned, there is no happy ending here. Only frustration and heart-break.

Where this story falls down is the over abundance of adjectives which I found really slowed the pace a bit. I felt that a lot of moments could have been a lot more suspenseful if there weren’t as many words. Even so, this is a great read, and I found myself really steaming through it to discover what happened next.

The setting remains the same as in The Chosen Voice, and I’m finding myself even more interested in it now. I’d really enjoy a much longer story in this world. A world I’ve come to think is set in the distant future. It’s not overtly stated, which I’m enjoying a lot.

Rating: 3.5/5 – A great story that could have had tighter prose.

Click here to check out the collection for yourself!

You can also read her review of Waking: Five Short Stories From the Sands here

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2 thoughts on “Treading Twisted Lines – Book Review

  1. Thanks for the lovely reviews 🙂 I’m a fan of the covers, myself – exactly what I wanted. All useful, thoughtful critique. So glad you enjoyed them.

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