The Hanging Mountains is the third book in Williams’ Books Of The Cataclysm series, but in many ways it feels like the second book in a trilogy. The Hanging Mountains picks immediately after where the previous book, The Blood Debt leaves off. A flood of epic proportions has inundated the Divide and the group of Sky Wardens, along with the Homunculus containing the souls of Seth and Hadrian from The Crooked Letter head upstream, to the Hanging Mountains to discover the source and the reason for the flood. They discover an ancient evil, long thought vanquished, is stirring and has big, nasty plans for Earth.
What Williams does well is in creating an interesting fantasy setting, without the usual fantasy tropes. The current world is a direct result of the events of the first book, which adds an air of ‘reality’ to the setting, even though it is very different from the modern day Earth setting of The Crooked Letter. We encounter various interesting and strange creatures inhabiting the world, most, if not all, brought into being by the Cataclysm and the Change. The Change being the word for magic in these books, and Williams has, again,created a unique and logical ‘ruleset’ for magic in his books that flows directly from the events in the first book. Obviously a lot of thought has gone into the world of the Cataclysm and Williams does a great job bringing it to life.
The characters are also an interesting lot. Shilly and Sal are outcasts from the Strand, hiding from the Sky Wardens, but forced to work with them to uncover the reason for the flood. The Sky Wardens aren’t all of mind either, they are a fractious bunch, each having their own ideas of how to proceed. The Castillo twins, Seth and Hadrian whose actions in the first book created this world, are encased in the body of the Homunculus, which was created by Sal’s father as a vessel for Sal’s mother’s soul to inhabit. They struggle to come to grips with their embodiment and what they must do in this world as they realize the evil they thought they had defeated in book 1 appears to be on the move again.
Given the great worldbuilding and interesting cast of characters, The Hanging Mountains falls down a bit story-wise. The plot seems to move at a slow pace, except near the end when things come to a head. It feels very much like ‘second book-itis’, where the characters and story are marking time until the third, and last book. Yes, Mountains is the third book, but The Crooked Letter is so different from its sequels that you can view it as a stand-alone novel. Mountains feels like nothing more than a chess match, where the pieces are moved into position for the final resolution. Sure they learn a little bit, but nothing much happens until the ending.
One thing I must praise Pyr for is the physical book itself, specifically the dust jacket. The cover art is awesome, but the entire jacket is well done. From the electric blue runes surrounding the cover art to the green toned rest of the cover, the whole thing just looks amazing. In fact, all of the books in this series so far look terrific. Couple that with a very easy to read font and layout on the inside, and these are some very impressive books.
Williams has created a unique and interesting setting for his Cataclysm books, stuffing it full of unexpected creatures and sympathetic characters. The Hanging Mountains, while feeling like a middle book, is no exception. I liked this book a bit more than The Blood Debt, but I think anyone who likes fantasy in general ought to give The Hanging Mountains and this whole series, a read.