Well, what can I say? Another Pyr title, and another quality offering. They might still be the new kids on the block, yet Pyr have certainly demonstrated that they will establish themselves as one of the best speculative fiction imprints out there. The powerhouses should take heed, because this smaller publishing house is creating waves that will soon be impossible to ignore.
Sean Williams' first installment in the Books of the Cataclysm series is a case in point. The Crooked Letter shows that Pyr is willing to take chances and publish works that could elevate fantasy to new heights.
The premise of the story is rather interesting. When mirror twins Hadrian and Seth Castillo decide to travel around Europe, little do they know that their backpacking adventure will be the harbinger of the end of the world. Yet when Seth is murdered in front of his brother, reality appears to unravel. Hadrian regains consciousness, only to realize that the world he knew has become a nightmarish landscape. As for Seth, on the other side of death he discovers that his troubles are only just beginning. The twins discover that they are at the heart of a Cataclysm that will destroy reality as they know it. Caught in different realms and beset on all sides, they must somehow find a way to prevent that catastrophe from occurring.
The worldbuilding is of the first order. Williams shows just how fertile his imagination is, all the while pooling themes from humanity's myths and legends. Much like Hal Duncan's Vellum and Tad Williams' Otherland, readers never know what's coming next. Anything can happen in The Crooked Letter. The novel's hallucinatory imagery is without a doubt its best feature.
On the downside, the book suffers from a few pacing problems. Nothing that will spoil your reading experience, but there are a number of "slow" scenes.
The characterizations are hit or miss, for the most part. Some are very good, while others leave something to be desired. I would have liked for the author to work a little more on the twins, for at times they don't seem to be three-dimensional characters. After all, Hadrian and Seth are central to this story. In any event, the ending resolves a lot of those issues. Still, it would have been nice to see more character development early on.
The storylines are not always easy to follow. But in this enthralling postapocalyptic tale, I believe the setting was meant to disorientate readers. So just buckle up and enjoy the ride! The ending will shine some light on everything, have no fear.
The Crooked Letter is a superior tale, one that should satisfy even jaded readers. Surreal, imaginative, captivating, unique -- there's a lot to love about this one. Add this novel to your "books to read" list.