The Crooked Letter
by Sean Williams
Published by Voyager
Matthew's Rating: 4 out of 4
“Magic was change. It was a process, an argument; neither beginning nor end; and not the stages in between, either, but something else entirely. If one froze the universe in time, took away the change, it would be lifeless, dead. But if one took all the matter and energy out of the universe instead, one wouldn’t have anything left that one could point at and say: this is the change. It was in the flow from moment to moment; it was Time’s forgotten but vital sibling – for without it, Time couldn’t be measured. It was life itself. Change was magic. The Change.”
The Crooked Letter is the first novel in Sean Williams’ new Books of the Cataclysm series. Set in the same world as his previous Books of the Change trilogy, it acts as a prequel of sorts to the trilogy, yet stands distinctly on its own, both in story and in style. While the Books of the Change trilogy was aimed more at a young adult audience, The Crooked Letter is aimed at an older audience with the themes and depictions that are used.
The two protagonists of the story are Hadrian and Seth, mirror twins who cannot live with each other, yet the world cannot allow them to live apart because of the connection that they share. After Seth is murdered in front of Hadrian, not only are both of their worlds shattered, so are the futures of two realms as the reverberations from the connection that the twins share endanger both our world and the next. Powers long dead start to become active, entities that have not walked the earth for millennia stir, and irrevocable changes are made to the fabric of the realms. Even if both Seth and Hadrian can work past that which has driven them apart, nothing might ever be the same.
Guest review by Matthew Long.
Williams’ ability to weave a believable tapestry between the world and history that we know shines as he takes various elements from religious beliefs around the world and mixes them with fantasy elements to create the three realms that are seen in The Crooked Letter. Borrowing from areas as diverse as the religious tomes of our major religions to ancient Aztec and Egyptian beliefs to Dante the Second Realm and the distinctions between the three major realms are explained inside the story and in the short appendices attached at the end, divulging the path that leads to the world seen further along in the Books of the Change trilogy.
Thematically The Crooked Letter shares a lot in common with the Books of the Change trilogy, although the approach to them is a lot more like that of his works with Shane Dix in the Convergence and Orphans trilogy. Though it is not publicized as a direct prequel to his previous trilogy, there is a large difference in the targeted audience, with a greater complexity to the storyline and themes. While this is not a major downside to the novel, it will prove problematic to some of the readers, both young and old, who will pick up this book to read more about the Cataclysm that created the Books of the Change realm.
The graphicness of some scenes is a step further than that often given by Williams with one scene in particular where Hadrian learns the truth about one of his companions leaving very little to the imagination, and being one of many scenes that demonstrate the intended audience of this story.