London, Electric Monkey, 2012, 274p
It has been a couple of years since I last read Oliver Twist, but I do remember feeling that it lacked gore.
If you felt the same way, JD Sharpe's re-imagining of Dickens' classic is just what you need. Oliver Twisted takes the rags-to-riches tale of an orphaned boy and adds vampyres, magic and demons.
We begin with a birth in a workhouse. When Oliver Twisted comes into this world, his mother dies. No one seems to know where she came from, so the young orphan is thrown in with a bunch of other boys to be 'farmed'. The blood of these poor children is fed to the vampyre gentry of the parish, who love the sweetness of a young food source.
Oliver is a pale, frail boy when he is apprenticed to the undertaker; a man who has been charged with bringing out the bad in the apparently innocent orphan. It is prophesied that Oliver is a powerful warlock, and the Brotherhood of Fenris want him for their evil deeds. But as we learn, Oliver is an overwhelmingly good boy, and his purity cannot be turned to darkness.
On multiple occasions, I found myself squirming at Sharpe's vivid descriptions of gore - I never knew there were so many ways to visualise blood!The story remains surprisingly loyal to the original, as if Dickens himself had secretly prepared his novel for a Gothic re-writing. It was incredibly well-written and researched, keeping the reader simultaneously engrossed and grossed out.
My only tiny disappointment was that Nancy's character remained somewhat the same. All the other characters had been recreated with dark alter-egos, from werewolves to soul-eaters, but Nancy remained ultimately human. Dickens has been criticised by some for lacking imagination when it came to women, merely creating caricatures of angels and whores. Here, Sharpe had a brilliant opportunity to empower the main female character in Oliver Twist, but failed to deter from the helpless victim of Dickens' Nancy.