PROS: Non-standard fantasy setting, loads of different deity figures, interesting premise.
CONS: Middle section bogged a bit, the ending left me a bit puzzled.
BOTTOM LINE:If you’re looking for a good fantasy read that is part of the FWtE (fantasy without the elves) genre, check this one out.
As I’ve stated before, I’m not big on fantasy, particularly epic fantasy that re-hashes the tired Tolkeinesque tropes. When I read the dust jacket I was intrigued, but I didn’t put The Crooked Letter in my to read queue. But it was a post by Lou Anders that caused me to reconsider and place it in my queue. I am glad I did.
The Crooked Letter concerns mirror twins Seth and Hadrian Castillo. Mirror twins are identical twins, only each is the mirror image of the other. Where one has his heart on the left side, the other has it on the right, and so on. Mirror twins are special in that they share a strong bond between them that goes beyond the bond of normal identical twins. It is this bond that plays a central role in the story. When Seth is murdered during a trip to Europe, he wakes up to find himself in the void between the different Realms of reality. Hadrian, meanwhile, discovers that Seth’s death has triggered a cataclysm on Earth, where most humans have been sacrificed and ancient gods are warring for control. Seth and Hadrian must find some way to stop the cataclysm from completely destroying Earth.
Perhaps the best part of The Crooked Letter is the setting. It is distinctly non-standard fantasy. The brothers discover that reality is split into three different Realms. The first realm is where Earth resides and is ruled by the physical. The second realm is separated from the first by a void called Devachan and is ruled by willpower. Your outward appearance is a reflection of your inner condition and you make things happen by willing them. The third realm is barely discussed, but seems to be a realm based on people’s worldlines. Cataclysms usually involve one realm combining with another, or in their break up. In this case, the death of Seth is being used by the dominant Dei of the Second Realm, Yod, as a means to combine with the First Realm and expand his control. Obviously, the Dei of the First Realm, Baal doesn’t want this to happen, and neither do most of the other deis. Seth and Hadrian must find a way to stop the combining and save whats left of Earth. Not only is the setting really rather interesting, the fact that Williams manages to combine deities from many different pantheons (Quetzalcuotl from the Aztecs for instance) into an interesting and eclectic mix. Also, there are many, many different types of being that inhabit the realms and the brothers encounter them during their quest.
Williams’s prose never gets in the way and he does a fine job of describing the weird and the odd in both Realms. However, the books is so chock full of different deis, beings, peoples and made-up names I found myself referring to the appendices to keep myself oriented. I whipped through the first 130 pages or so the first night I read the book. At this point I had to keep flipping back and forth and it took my another week to finish the rest of the book. However, as I only have time to read at night, I suspect someone with more contiguous time will be able to remember things better than I did and, thus, have an easier time during the middle story.
The other thing that bothered me a bit was the eventual ‘solution’ to the twins’ problem. Williams makes it clear that mirror twins have been born before and have been the catalysts for other cataclysms. Knowing this, I was surprised that the solution Seth and Hadrian decided upon hadn’t been tried before. There was a ‘trial’ of sorts that led to the discovery of this solution, so maybe earlier twins had been unable to discover it. Still, though, it bothered me a bit. And, being the first book in a series, the current cataclysm isn’t really stopped, more like placed in a short term limbo. Stay tuned for book two.
Still, I really enjoyed this book. You care about both brothers and their trials in the different realms are interesting to read about. If you’re looking for a good non-standard fantasy book, pick up The Crooked Letter.