Monday 6 February 2012

Review: Oliver Twisted by JD Sharpe (and Charles Dickens)

"Flesh," the woe-begotten moaned at Oliver, baring teeth which were ragged and black. "Flesh" came another moan, and he turned to see two more behind. They began to shuffle towards him, barefoot.

The world according to Oliver Twisted is simple. Vampyres feed on the defenceless, orphans are sacrificed to hungry gods and if a woe-begotten catches your scent it will hunt you forever. On the advice of a corpse, Oliver flees his ghastly orphan life to seek his destiny in the dark streets of old London Town, despite the perils of the woe-begotten zombie-infested journey. There he meets the shadowy Dodger, the evil old soul-stealer Fagin, and the menacing Bill Sikes, who is more beast than man. But will Oliver Twisted be the world's salvation, or its downfall?!

Confession #1: I am not a particularly big fan of Charles Dickens books. I know that by admitting that I run the risk of being burned as a heretic, but I have to be true to myself and my readers.

Confession #2: The only Dickens book I have read is Oliver Twist. I have read this one and a half times. The half was the abridged version when I was at school (Year 8 or Year 9 I believe); the other time was as an adult. I think I much preferred the abridged version.

Despite it being a great story, with many fantastic characters that have become an integral part of our national culture, I simply did not enjoy the reading experience. It was simply far too wordy for my liking, and having slogged through it I didn’t have the motivation to try another of his many books. I’m sure it is to my loss, but c’est la vie.

If you are still reading this and haven’t closed your browser in disgust then please now let me tell you about Oliver Twisted, a book I found hugely enjoyable. I first heard about the book last year when I was at a bloggers’ event held by OUP. Jasmine Richards (aka JD Sharpe), one of their senior editors, told me about one of her own books due out in 2012, and I was sold on the idea immediately. Oliver Twist with vampires and zombies? Of course it appealed to me.

If you are a Dickens fan, and you are still reading this, perhaps now feeling more than a little horrified that someone has ‘messed’ with yet another classic by doing a “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” on Dickens’ much loved story then have no fear. I gave up on P&P&Z after only a couple of chapters – Oliver Twisted is infinitely better. First of all JD Sharpe is herself a huge, huge fan of the works of Charles Dickens and this is evident from the way she treats the well known characters that given a new lease of life (or in some cases death) in her version of the story.

Secondly, unlike P&P&Z where Jane Austen’s original words are used with various changes and additions, this is a rewrite of the Oliver Twist story. By this I mean that Ms Sharpe has taken the basic plot of the original Dickens story and turned it into an action horror story to rival the likes of Darren Shan and David Gatward. In this story Oliver’s mother dies shortly after giving birth to him, but her death is far from natural – she takes her own life rather than give into the change that she faces having been bitten by a woe-begotten (Victorian for zombie). We then see Oliver progress through orphanage, onto workhouse, and then into the employ of Mr Sowerberry before finally running away to London, with each of these episodes in his life twisted to make the storyline far more horrific than the original. Once Oliver arrives in London he goes on to meet all the familiarly named characters, although some of them are as you have never seen them before.

I’m not going to go into any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for anyone. Part of the enjoyment of this richly imagined story is each discovery of what the author has done to tweak a well known character to make them fit her new vampire and werewolf populated Victorian world. To call the story a mash-up would be doing a great disservice to the author; I feel that she has managed to fuse the original story with her own twisted take on Victorian England in a way that Seth Grahame-Smith never even came close to, and in doing so has created a story that will have appeal to adult lovers of the original, and young readers who are yet to pick up a Charles Dickens novel for the first time. I am looking forward to passing this on to the English staff at school to see their reactions to it.

Oliver Twisted is published today and my thanks go to the good people at Electric Monkey for sending me a copy of the book to review. You can also head on over to and read an extract of the book.

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