The Twilight Gods
by Hayden Thorne
Length: 234 Pages
Characters: Norris Woodhead, Thomas Albright, Mrs. Cavendish
POV: Third person
Setting: London, 1851
Genre: Young Adult
London during the Great Exhibition of 1851 is a new world of technological advances, eye-popping inventions, and glimpses of exotic treasures from the East. For fifteen-year-old Norris Woodhead it’s a time of spectral figures mingling with London’s daily crowds, and an old rectory in a far corner of the English countryside, a great house literally caught in time, where answers to curious little mysteries await him. Confined by his family’s financial woes, Norris suffers a lonely and unsatisfying time till the day he (and only he) notices “shadow-folks” in the streets. Then a strange widow appears, rents a vacant room in the house, and takes him under her wing. She becomes his guardian, slowly revealing those shadows’ secrets, Norris’ connection with them, and the life-altering choices he has to face in the end. The Twilight Gods is a retelling of Native American folktale called “The Girl Who Married a Ghost.” Set in Victorian England, it’s an alternative perspective on a gay teen’s coming-out process, with Norris’ journey of self-discovery couched in magical and supernatural terms and imagery.
Review by Lisa:
Young Norris Woodhead says, in Hayden Thorne’s The Twilight Gods, “Something isn’t right, but I shouldn’t be afraid of it.” Norris has recently discovered shadow-people walking the streets of London, you see, which sets in motion the journey of a 15 year old boy as he prepares to leave his childhood behind and travel a difficult road toward self-discovery.
The Woodhead household is in dire financial straits. It’s not that Norris’ father doesn’t make a respectable living as an accountant at Bobble & Bobble, makers of Genuine Venetian Commodes; rather it’s that Mrs. Woodhead obsessively sets every spare cent aside to ensure that Christopher, Meg, Mary, and eventually young Norris will have the means to attract the proper marriage prospects. In addition to Mr. Woodhead’s income, the family also rents out its spare rooms to boarders to help with growing expenses.
From the outset, the reader sees that Norris lives on the fringes of his peculiar and somewhat dysfunctional family. He’s more interested in science and inventing than he is in pursuing knowledge of the Greek and Latin being halfheartedly taught to him by his tutor and tenant, Mr. Garland. When Norris’ attention begins to become increasingly diverted by the shadows he sees mingling outside the windows of his own home and in the streets of the city, the reader is treated to the beginnings of an allegorical tale that is elegantly written and perfectly captures the propriety of the times.
When Mr. Morlock, a boarder in the Woodhead household, suddenly dies his recently vacated room is rented to a mysterious new tenant, the widow, Mrs. Cavendish. The woman makes a rather striking first impression on young Norris, as he seems to sense an other-worldly air about her. In fact, Mrs. Cavendish is an affecting presence on all the members of the Woodhead household and an enigma that the reader is compelled to solve. Norris soon discovers that Mrs. Cavendish can also see the shadow-people he has so recently begun to encounter and she tells Norris quite plainly, “You’re the reason why I came.”
As Norris’ disinterest in his family’s goings on grows, the more invisible to them Norris becomes, and the more important Mrs. Cavendish becomes to his journey. Norris questions Mrs. Cavendish about the shadows that only the two of them can see, but her replies are always the same; Norris will discover the answers to his questions when he’s ready to hear and accept them. Like reading a book with missing pages, Norris can’t quite grasp the full meaning of all that’s happening around him, especially when he witnesses the shadow-people begin to materialize and interact with shop owners and vendors. On an outing that takes the two to London’s Great Exhibition, the reader will discover that the greater exhibition becomes the quest the author has orchestrated, as Mrs. Cavendish makes the impossible possible, and Norris finds himself mystically transported through time and space to an isolated rectory that becomes the place where he learns life’s ultimate lesson, and where he encounters Thomas Albright, the young man who will finally help Norris take the first step to choosing the path his life will take.
The Twilight Gods is an absolute must read for those who enjoy coming-of-age stories written with the adult reader in mind. Hayden Thorne has created a gift for the reader, filling the tale with characters and settings that are rich in detail, a plot that is evocative and steeped in symbolism, themes that are both contemporary and thought provoking, and a writing style that perfectly captures the gentility and social mores of the puritanical Victorian England. The story is both heartrending and uplifting, written with the perfect blend of wit and emotion, and has left an indelible impression in my mind.
Review by Jeff:
Norris Woodhead is a fifteen-year-old boy in nineteenth-century England, and he is unique in many ways. He is rather shy, an introvert by nature, and his taciturn personality sets him apart from his outspoken siblings. His family struggles financially, but they are constantly focused upon maintaining an appearance of social affluence. His older brother and two sisters demand most of his parents’ attention, and Norris seems to be all but forgotten. He is not afforded the luxury of a formal education due to financial constraints and thus must suffer under the tutelage of a drunken schoolmaster who happens to rent a room in their home.
When Norris discovers that he can see shadows of which nobody else seems to be aware, he tries telling his mother. She scolds him, accusing him of having an overly-active imagination. He cannot stop seeing them, however, and when a new border is taken into their home, Norris soon discovers that he is not the only one with this unique ability. Mrs. Cavendish, the sagely widow who keenly seems to understand young Norris, also has an awareness of these shadow people. She begins to lead Norris on an adventure of self-discovery and personal growth.
Hayden Thorne is one of the most impressive young adult authors I have ever been privileged to read. Not only does her subtle writer’s voice carry the reader fluently through page after page of captivating story-telling, but her characters come to life in such a realistic way that I felt almost as if I was a member of the Woodhead family.
Thorne’s grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary are impeccable. Typically I struggle with many gay-fiction publishers, finding that they do not do a very painstaking job of editing, yet this story was flawless. Thorne’s literary expertise certainly goes a long way at dispelling the stigma often associated with gay-themed literature.
The allegorical element of the story is very thought-provoking, but it may require a bit of patience on the part of some readers. For nearly half of the book, I considered that perhaps the book was incorrectly classified because it did not appear to have anything whatsoever to do with sexual orientation or coming-out. It all becomes clear in the end, however, and if the reader is willing to invest just a little time, they will receive their reward and then some.
I regard this book as being head-and-shoulders above most others within this genre and have no qualms about classifying it as a “must-read.” It is, in my opinion, sure to become a classic.
About the Author
Hayden Thorne has lived most of her life in the San Francisco Bay Area though she wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). She’s married with no kids and three cats, is a cycling nut (go Team Garmin!), and her day job involves artwork, crazy (read: incomprehensibly fun) coworkers who specialize in all kinds of media, and the occasional strange customer requests involving papier mache fish with sparkly scales.
She’s a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. Her books range from a superhero fantasy series to reworked folktales to Victorian ghost fiction. Her themes are coming-of-age, with very little focus on romance (most of the time) and more on individual growth with some adventure thrown in.
Other Books by Hayden Thorne
Masks: Rise of Heroes
Strange things are happening in Vintage City, and high school goth boy Eric seems to be right in the middle of them. There’s a new villain in town, one with super powers, and he’s wreaking havoc on the town, and on Eric’s life. The new super hero who springs up to defend Vintage City is almost as bad, making Eric all hot and bothered, enough so that he almost misses the love that’s right under his nose. Peter is Eric’s best friend, and even if he does seem to be hiding something most of the time, he finds a way to show Eric how he feels in between attacks on trains and banks and malls. The two boys decide to start dating, much to the chagrin of their other best buddy, Althea, who has a terrible crush on Peter, and a secret or two of her own to keep. As the fight between the villain, known as the Devil’s Trill, and superhero Magnifiman picks up, Eric’s relationship with Peter almost ends before it begins when Eric finds out about Peter’s special talents, which might just rank Peter as a superhero in his own right. When the Trill takes an interest in Eric, too, Peter and Althea, along with Magnifiman and Eric’s normal, middle-class family all have to work together to keep Eric, and their city, safe. Can they figure out the super villain’s plan in time?
While his friends continue to develop their newfound powers, Eric begins to feel the effects of being the odd man out. Around him, things go from bad to worse for Vintage City as the Shadow Puppet, a new super-villain, steps into the Devil’s Trill’s shoes and wreaks havoc with his army of killer mannequins. Magnifiman, Calais, and Spirit Wire have their hands full, with the Puppet proving to be much more slippery than the Trill and leaving the good guys scrambling for clues. Work-related stress begins to creep into Eric’s relationship with Peter, which reaches the breaking point when Peter takes a new superhero under his wing, a fire-wielding teenage girl, whose awesome powers could make her a better match for Peter. . To make matters worse, there are the strange headaches, sleepwalking, and nightmares that haunt Eric, as well as the Devil’s Trill’s call for him to take his place as a super-villain sidekick. There’s also Brenda Whitaker, her mysterious past, and her sudden desire to help Eric as he struggles to figure himself out and make the right choice before his parents ask him again about his awful Geometry and Chemistry grades. Can Eric handle the stress? Find out in this second book of the Masks trilogy.
Masks: Ordinary Champions
Book Three of the Masks series follows Eric’s adventures as a newly-transformed supervillain sidekick. Taking advantage of Eric’s relationship with Peter, the Devil’s Trill uses him for a shield against the superheroes. In the meantime, new villains and a new, covert vigilante-like group appear, with a young hero with chameleon powers attempting to infiltrate the Trill’s hideout and help Eric. Eric struggles with his conscience and schemes to turn the tables on the Trill, but his powers deteriorate. He grows more and more unstable and unsafe while the Trill’s henchmen appear to grow stronger and stronger, as though they were also subjected to the same manipulation that’s been used on Eric. As the Trill fights both the heroes and tries to assert his dominance over the new villains, Eric realizes that he doesn’t have much time left to set things right on his own, even if it costs him his life.
Curse of Arachnaman
The Curse of Arachnaman follows the events in the first three books in the Masks series, including Masks: Rise of Heroes and Masks: Evolution. Eric is settling down into a near-normal existence. He’s learning to cope with a different kind of closet – being kept from talking freely about his relationship with Calais and the other superheroes – as well as an increasingly protective mother, his sister’s new squeaky-clean boyfriend, and a bingo-obsessed best friend. Eric also learns that sometimes, being an asset to the forces of good means simply being himself. In the meantime, Vintage City is under siege from a new threat, one who’s proving to be much more dangerous than all of the other supervillains the heroes have faced combined. Good people find themselves at the mercy of an angry lunatic who will stop at nothing to purge the city of what he sees to be undesirable elements. Can Eric and his friends triumph over evil again, or will this be their last battle?