When mirror twins Seth and Hadrian Castillo travel to Europe on holidays, they don’t expect the end of the world to follow them. Seth’s murder, however, puts exactly that into motion.
From opposite sides of death, the Castillo twins grapple with a reality neither of them suspected, although it has been encoded in myths and legends for millennia. The Earth we know is just one of many “realms”, three of which are inhabited by humans during various stages of their lives. And their afterlives…
In the tradition of Philip Pullman and Ursula K. Le Guin and inspired by numerous arcane sources, the Books of the Cataclysm begin in the present world but soon propel the reader to a landscape that is simultaneously familiar and fantastic. (goodreads.com)
Pyr sent this over to me quite a bit ago and I’m woefully behind in reviewing it. Thankfully this is the second to last title I have left. I liked the way THE CROOKED LETTER sounded with the mirror twins and all the different bits of mythology getting thrown into the book and it piqued my interest. Enter said amount of time later and I finally got around to reading it.
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.