Goodreads: Swamp Thing: Twin Branches
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Published: October 13, 2020
#1 New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater (the Raven Cycle series) and artist Morgan Beem unearth the primal power of memory and how it twists the bond between two brothers.
Twins Alec and Walker Holland have a reputation around town. One is quiet and the other is the life of any party, but the two are inseparable. For their last summer before college, Alec and Walker leave the city to live with their rural cousins, where they find that the swamp holds far darker depths than they could have imagined.
While Walker carves their names into the new social scene, Alec recedes into a summer-school laboratory, slowly losing himself to a deep, dark experiment. This season, both brothers must confront truths, ancient and familial, and as their lives diverge, tensions increase and dormant memories claw to the surface.
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches is a story of shadows, both literal and imagined—and those that take form and haunt us.
I fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater’s writing while listening to the Raven Cycle series on audiobook. Stiefvater’s work impressed me as highly original and intelligent, with a special talent for creating realistic teen characters. So when I saw she was writing a YA graphic novel for DC Comics, which has lately been releasing a stellar lineup of middle grade and teen titles, I knew I had to read it. Her choice of Swamp Thing, whom I have to admit I had never even heard of, was intriguing. But the darkness of the tale seemed a perfect fit. While Swamp Thing: Twin Branches does have weaknesses, ultimately I believe that fans of Stiefvater will not be wholly disappointed. The book showcases Stiefvater’s signature writing style and characterization, delving into the secret lives of plants and linking them to her protagonist, a troubled teen who finds it easier to interact with plants than people.
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches immediately drew me into its world as twins Alec and Walker Holland move to the countryside to spend the summer with their cousins. Rural life is vividly depicted, with Alec feeling appalled that his cousins spend their days driving around town beating mailboxes with baseball bats and going to raving parties, and Walker doing his best to embrace the social scene. Their relationship lies at the heart of the story, with both twins trying to bridge the differences between them–Alec, more interested in his biology experiments than in making friends, and Walker, trying to carve a space for himself in their new life—but finding it increasingly impossible. I loved both twins at once, and longed for them to reclaim the close bond they clearly once shared.
Characterization is one of Stiefvater’s specialties, and she makes her characters come alive as much as possible with the limited space she has. Admittedly, however, the story seems too short to do all the characters justice. Alec and Walker are clearly defined, but their cousins receive scant attention, making them seem more like a plot device than anything else. And Alec’s love interest receives only a cursory backstory, making her attraction to Alec and their subsequent romance seem a little too quick and forced. The outlines of what the characters could be are all there, but they are never fully fleshed out. And readers may see this as a weakness in Stiefvater’s first foray into the graphic novel format.
Where Stiefvater does shine, however, is in her signature prose, which manages to be truly evocative, without falling into the pitfall of being over-the-top. Her emphasis in Swamp Thing: Twin Branches is on the intelligence of plants, which can sense danger, seek out scarce resources, and even communicate with each other. Her research into the topic and her fascination is clearly evident, and she manages to insert educational facts about plants into the narrative and actually make them seem necessary and beautiful. Readers begin to understand why Alec is so obsessed with biology–there is something mesmerizing about their mystery.
Unfortunately, however, Swamp Thing: Twin Branches seems just a little too short to be the five star read I was expecting. The characterization feels incomplete, but so does the ending, which is too sudden to evoke more emotions than a sense of confusion and disappointment. Stiefavater was evidently going for an origin story, but such a story needs to go beyond the first transformation. Imagine if Peter Parker’s tale ended with him being bitten by a spider–no villain to fight, no adjustments to be made as he comes to term with his new powers, no…anything. Swamp Thing: Twin Branches is basically that–an origin story that stops immediately after Alec realizes what he can do. It feels like half a story–and I think readers will be a little let down.
Still, despite its flaws, Swamp Thing: Twin Branches is well worth the read for fans of Maggie Stiefvater. She introduces readers to two lovable protagonists, creates an immersive world, and makes plant life seem absolutely fascinating as she links their quiet intelligence to the dark downward spiral Alec Holland seems to be on. The book is not a perfect graphic novel, but it is a mighty first attempt. And I would love to read more by Stiefvater should she choose to continue the story with a sequel.