By Terence Blacker
The Twyning is the story of young ratling Efren, born into a time of change for the Kingdom of rats that live beneath the city streets. After the King is assassinated by a human scientist Dr Henry Ross-Gibbon the whole rat society is in turmoil.
This death is just the start though, with the Doctor obsessed with an ambition to destroy every last rat, assisted by a young lad known as Dogboy; before long a war rages between rat and humankind. Hurt and alone Efren finds shelter with Dogboy and his eleven-year-old runaway friend Caz.
This is the story of innocents caught up in a war that transcends the barriers between races; it's also a heart warming tale of acceptance, of friendship and of change.
I'm not a big fan of the long-tailed furry rodents that live so close to our homes, if anything they give me the creeps with their long tails and scurrying manner. Society has done little to prevent this revulsion, after all they are known to carry zoonotic pathogens (diseases that can transfer across species) including the infamous Black Death - although this is believed to be carried by the fleas of the rat rather than the rat themselves. The one inescapable fact remains however that like it or not we are never far away from a rat; they are ideally suited to an urban environment and can breed at an alarming rate. They are present wherever humans live and within an urban environment it is said you are never more than 6 feet away from one.
Given all the above you could be forgiven for thinking that I didn't like the book however nothing could be farther from the truth, it won me over despite my strong dislike to Rattus. The Twyning is being billed as the rat version of Watership Down and while I can see the similarities I also think they are very different books, if anything the book owes more to the works of the late Brian Jacques than it does Richard Adams works.
Regardless of likenesses, The Twyning remains one seriously impressive piece of fiction, the prose is rich and vibrant creating a world both above and below that you can almost reach out and touch (or even smell), filled with colourful characters of both Rat and Human variety. The story is good enough to keep the interest level high - even if it does stall a little in the middle - but along with the quite brilliant world-building it's the characters that really make the book something special, Dogboy and Efren taking the center stage and the readers heart.
There is also a certain maturity to the novel, both in terms of voice and subject matter, tugging at the heart strings quite powerfully in a few places and managing to shock at least once. There are a number of messages running through the novel, the reluctance for change and a fear of the different being two of note.
The Twyning hit's all the right notes, it's got a confident voice, subtle humour and above all a great story. And when next I see the furtive scurrying of a small rodent? Sorry but I will still never like a rat that isn't named Efren.
Written on 13th February 2013 by Ant .