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The Crooked Letter (Books of The Cataclysm: One) by Sean Williams

01/09/2008. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin

Buy The Crooked Letter in the USA - or Buy The Crooked Letter in the UK

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pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. 506 page hardback. Price: $25.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59102-438-5.

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I had read books two and three of Sean Williams' 'Tales Of The Cataclysm' before getting my hands on this first volume so it was interesting to see the origins of Sean Williams' world, which also featured in his 'Books Of The Change' trilogy. The shattered lands after the First and Second Realms have collided is a great invention and though this book is not set there, it explains how the Cataclysm came about.

Seth and Hadrian Castillo are mirror twins, identical but reversed, as if one was seen in a mirror. On a trip to Europe, they bond with a beautiful traveller called Ellis. Sharing everything as they always have, the pair strike up an uneasy and complicated relationship with the girl, before everything is shattered. When a shady Swede follows them on the train and stabs Seth, the twins' world and that of everyone else is thrown into chaos.

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Because they are mirror twins, Williams reveals, they want to be as close to each other as possible. As Seth dies and passes into the Second Realm where will and not matter rules, the bond between him and his brother pulls the First and Second Realms closer together, allowing creatures and magic to pass between them.

As both realms begin to blur, both brothers meet an exotic selection of creatures both valiant and nefarious. It emerges that the Swede was working for Yod, an otherworldly creature that feasts on the souls of the dead as they travel to the Second Realm from the First. One way or the other, Seth and Hadrian must be in the same world or else a Cataclysm will come that will destroy everything.

The author has gone to great pains to research many religious and spiritual symbols and myths and yet the world he creates is utterly alien to any of them. Both the strange cityscape the First Realm becomes as it falls apart and the crazy magic of the Second Realm are vivid, complex things that could each have many books devoted to them.

The Realms aren't destined to remain that way, however and both brothers are whisked forward by helpers reminiscent of characters seen in the films of Guillermo Del Toro. The dark yet imaginative characters and shifting settings join the best of the 'New Weird' movement, sharing similarities with China Mieville and Steph Swainston's complex advancement of the fantasy genre.

I feel torn about the novel as it links with the other books in the series I have read. I both wanted the twins' story to continue and felt eager to move to the post-Cataclysm world I had seen written so effectively in 'The Blood Debt' and the 'The Hanging Mountains'. In the end, I think this book is a great standalone piece that complements and adds meaning to the other books but is separate from the main plotline. Together with its sequels, it remains some of the best and most inventive fantasies I've read in recent times.

Tomas L. Martin

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