Gorgeous and weird graphic novel centered around an introvert twin bringing his research on plants to a rural swamp.
Twins Alec and Walker Holland have a reputation around town. One is quiet and the other is the life of any party, but they are inseparable. For their last summer before college, the two 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, because he brought something from home on their trip—it’s an experiment that will soon consume him. This season, both brothers must confront truths, ancient and familial, and as their lives diverge, tensions increase and dormant memories claw to the surface.
I received an ARC and reviewed honestly and voluntarily.
Content warnings include: bullying, violence, body horror, character has diabetes; mentions of cheating, divorce.
As a twin myself I am always torn between rolling my eyes at the depiction of twins in media and just enjoying the common twin tropes because, frankly, they are fun.
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches did a good job of taking the fun elements of popular twin tropes without overdoing them. Alex and Walker might be identical on the outside and polar opposites on the inside, but they are neither attached at the hip, nor bitter enemies or rivals.
Plot wise the book developed in a completely different direction than expected. I’m not familiar with any of the Swamp Thing comics, so I didn’t even really have any expectations aside from vague memories of some screenshots or movie stills, but I still found the story unique and twisted. There’s a stark contrast between everyday subjects, like the banality of Alec and Walker spending the summer with their cousins, their family dynamics, or Alec’s introvertedness not getting accepted, and the grotesque, plant-based beauty and horror of Alex’s experiment when it got dropped in the swamp.
There were both light and heavy moments. The bullying and antagonism Alec faced for being introverted and preferring plants over people stung, and I was quite frankly shocked at the violence in the finale.
The book is a graphic novel: I liked the art a lot. Particularly the artwork of the plants and the background behind the panels was beautiful. There was so much more to see than you could take in on first glance, and it was deceptively simple looking, with so much tiny details that were both story relevant and simply giving something beautiful to look at where-ever your gaze might fall, without it becoming too crowded.
However I couldn’t always recognize what was of import in the art. It wasn’t always clear to me if the discoloration of Alec’s skin was an injury or just a stylistic choice, and this sort of confusion happened in other contexts too, both in the art and plot. I didn’t always know what was part of the experiment’s consequences and what was predetermined, but I can imagine that line was blurred on purpose.
The text also didn’t seem very well integrated with the artwork, and often stood out sharply in the panels – not so much in speech bubbles, but in labels and other written words that were part of the background.
This might be fixed in the final version, however, and wasn’t too big of a bother.
Overall an entertaining read that I guarantee will go completely differently than whatever you went in expecting. I loved the way the plot developed, though there was an implication in the ending that I wasn’t the biggest fan of.