- Paperback: 508 pages
- Publisher: Pyr (April 8, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 159102644X
- ISBN-13: 978-1591026440
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,683,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Crooked Letter: Books of the Cataclysm: One Paperback – April 1, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Drawing on worldwide myths and legends, Australian author Williams (The Resurrected Man) expertly twists the familiar into the grotesque in this deeply spooky story, the first in a new fantasy series. When Seth Castillo is stabbed and killed, his spirit is whisked away to the Second Realm, a literally inside-out place full of hideous monsters, while his mirror twin, Hadrian, remains in the First Realm of the living. Their psychic link draws the two realms together, precipitating a world-warping cataclysm that the alien Yod hopes will let him conquer the First Realm as he has the Second. The twins' gaping bewilderment drives their supernatural guides to provide loads of flat exposition, and it's never clear why Hadrian doesn't simply kill himself to destroy the cross-realm link, but as protagonists rather than heroes they serve well enough. Future volumes will hopefully focus less on the magnificent scenery and more on the political intrigues only hinted at here. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A dark and compelling tale." -- Fiona McIntosh, author of Blood and Memory
"Compulsively readable, utterly enthralling, seriously disturbing. One of the best fantasy novels Ive read in a long, long time." -- Sara Douglass, best-selling author of The Crucible and Darkwitch Rising
"Narration...manages to weave itself into a wonderful story. The prose is eloquent and the dialogue is flawless." -- William Lexner, posted on the blog, I HOPE I DIDN'T JUST GIVE AWAY THE ENDING
"Williams is a master storyteller, and this novel is a celebration of his wild talent." -- Jack Dann, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning author of The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Initially I was a little put off by the thickness, mainly because I'm inherently put off by thick books because they're such a time commitment and I'm really bent on not DNFing books this year so if I ended up not being thrilled with it, well, that's one hell of a slog. Luckily the print is normal so it really didn't take me forever to read and it really got the point quickly. Within the first fifty pages the world's already gone a bit sideways but I didn't know the extent of it until a bit later. Not much later but beyond the fifty page mark. The book opens with a fight between the brothers that really sets up their relationship but then they're torn apart and you're forced to get to know them as individuals and they really do stand out from each other. So between the characters and the world it had my attention.
I really liked the world(s) Williams created and how familiar they were but were still foreign at the same time. The concept was that many people, after they died, went to the second realm where they experienced a new level of existence mutually exclusive to the first realm, or the one we live in. Earth's myths and legends were loosely based on the creatures and stories from the second realm and a lot of the facts were lost in translation because a lot of it just couldn't be translated. There are elements of the second realm that just don't transfer to the human one. The third realm is more of an afterlife as we know it, where if you die in the second that's where you go. And then there's the underworld and the semi-world that the Nail, who's trying to merge the first and second realms so he can wreak havoc on the worlds, occupies that exists in this kind of active limbo. It's not as complicated as I'm making it sound, if I'm even describing it correctly, but it's all incredibly detailed and there was never a moment where I couldn't picture what was going on in my head regardless of how foreign and fantastical the worlds were.
I also liked how individual Hadrian and Seth became over the course of the story and how Ellis, even with her twist, was still the Ellis that I kept seeing in flashbacks. Her personality never really deviated despite her transformation. And the same goes for Seth and Hadrian. They grew as characters but despite everything they were going through they remained individuals within a drastically changing world instead of bending to its will. They were all incredibly real and I was actually invested in their stories. I cared about them and I wanted to know where they ended up and whether their mission was successful or not.
The middle kind of sagged a bit, especially with Seth's story because he didn't seem to be moving at the same pace as Hadrian. His wheels were spinning more and his storyline was more about personal transformation and character development despite being in a whole new world. Hadrian's story was more plot-driven and since I prefer that kind of story I was a bit more endeared to his storyline than Seth's. There was a bit more action, less stalled travel and more adversarial encounters that, for me, made it more interesting.
Also I wish the editing were a touch better only because there were a couple of times where the brothers weren't kept straight. I would start reading a chapter and it would say it's about Seth to start only to have Hadrian's name pop up as a POV a couple paragraphs down. The book was really good about POV transitions so these were rather jarring. Especially since the brothers occupy two different worlds to have it start as one POV only to have it really be another had be wrenched from one world to another. Even more jarring. It happened enough to be noticeable (maybe twice) but nowhere near enough that it bothered me all that much.
THE CROOKED LETTER is a great blend of apocalyptic and fantasy that mixes a slew of mythology with the destruction of the world and isn't heavy-handed about it. The characters are some of the most authentic I've ever come across and while the middle is a little saggy, it's easy enough to get through with all that's going on. There's a lot here to appeal to a wide range of people with a myriad of different tastes. I'd recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy, especially, but if you're into the whole it's the end of the world as we know it, you might want to try it out too. It may surprise you.
I found this book on a trip to the library and I am sad to say I got suckered into taking it home because of the cover art and the brief description on the flap. Thankfully libraries let you take books for free. I saw this great apocalyptic painting on the front with only a human and a demon looking person walking through a ruined city underground. The flap talked about mirror twins, Seth and Hadrian Castillo, who while on vacation get pulled into the events of the end of world when Seth is murdered in front of his brother. Hadrian is left in a corpse filled city and Seth goes to the afterlife to have his own adventure. I began to think I had found a great surrealist post-apocalyptic novel, like the fantasy version of The Road. I had high hopes, much like William’s publishers. The bottom of the flap said Williams was compared to Ursula K. Le Guin and China Mieville, though it doesn’t say by who this comparison is made. It should have said he wanted to emulate these authors, for I think that is what he was trying to accomplish.
This story is flawed in so many ways, and I hate saying that, for Williams is a professional author, published and all that, but it is. Williams creates two surreal worlds, three really but only talks about two, supplies them with norms and rules and then violates both. Seth goes to an after life ruled by will alone, but than can die again, pass on to another realm, because of a fall, or being eaten by the locals. Will power can move him and strengthen him, yet he must travel by boat, that isn’t really a boat, through a tube, that isn’t really a tube, because what, he can’t will himself to fly through an airless afterlife? Hadrian isn’t in one city, he is in all the cities of earth. They have become a Frankenstein mash up that he can travel through in a big metal car driven by an old lady, yet it takes them hours to get anywhere and the rest of world is apparently fine. So, how can Hadrian drive through destroyed Earth cities at the same time as people are still living in them?
There is also Williams heavy use of mythology. Many stories under the Speculative Fiction umbrella have made use of Earth’s many mythologies, there is nothing wrong with that. However, Williams is trying to use all of them in some capacity or another at once. Yet, even with such a huge grab bag of tricks, he pulls out the less common dominator of all, Christianity. This Cataclysm, of which the Castillo brothers are witnessing, are moments when three different realms of life are some how forced to merge together. The previous Cataclysms were the fall of the Morning Star, and then Noah and then Jesus. So, perhaps this cycle has something to do with his second ‘coming’. Not sure, as I didn’t finish the book, but yes Jesus is mentioned, except Williams spelled his named differently. As a matter of fact, many figures from mythology make guest appearances or are talked about, places as well, all with unique spellings provided care of the author. The cliches are piled on thick. Like peanut butter on the roof of a dogs mouth, I kept chewing by couldn’t swallow.
The writing is lacking as well. Characters are not fully developed, motivations for their actions seem weak, unjustified or just not there. The dialogue between between people is stale, it reads like a Japanese RPG. Seth and Hadrian both have guides that they talk to learn about the worlds they now inhabit. Each exchange with these people is like a video game tutorial. There is also a character Ellis, a woman both brothers sleep with and become obsessed with and get jealous over. Yet, she disappears in the first few chapters and that creates a ghost love triangle. Everyone is sick of love triangles, especially with dead people. Williams is weak as a word smith. He tries so hard to explain these surreal otherworldly places and experiences but comes off as cartoonish.
So, to conclude, I find The Crooked Letter to be on par with contemporary young adult fiction. Some people are going to like this book, but I really think those folks would be teenagers. This book is perfect for that demographic, by the way. Younger readers could use this as a place to start, before they are ready for more complex surrealist authors. They could also just start with H.P. Lovecraft like I did. Cut to the chase I say. Sadly, this book was filed with adult science-fiction and it lacks the development to be such. One of my favorite authors is Clive Barker, who is known to be experienced at the otherworldly. As I read Sean Williams I kept thinking he wants to be Clive, he really wants to be Clive. I don’t blame Sean for wanting to write like Clive Barker. I wouldn’t mind some of his talent rubbing off on me. While Sean Williams is a lot further along to that goal than I am, he needs to try harder than this.