I’ve read this as part of my great Read Everything I Own but Haven’t Read Yet pledge, which I’m hoping to make serious inroads into this year. We’ll see…
I got this a number of years ago as part of a show bag at a Swancon. I had read some Williams before, but not much. Since then I have read large chunks of his SF, but – until now – none of his fantasy except for the Troubletwisters books with Garth Nix. (It’s actually been a while since I read much fantasy at all, which is curious to realise.)
Williams clearly has a thing for twins. In this, the twins are mirrors of one another, down to one of them having his heart on the righthand side of his chest. Their names are Seth and Hadrian – and I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed with the name choice, given that both lend themselves to some nice tricksy name-association, just not with each other. Moving on… Seth and Hadrian are on holidays in Europe. They end up travelling with a girl, Ellis, and then everything gets weird when one of them is stabbed. That’s not the weird part, though – the weird part is the non-stabbed one waking up and realising that the world is very, very different from when he last had his eyes open. And then things just get worse. For both of the twins.
There are some really nice elements to this story. Overall I thought the twins’ relationship was a well-developed one, nearly perfectly balanced between love and… not hatred, but perhaps despair at being tied to this same person in so many ways for so long. Occasionally I got a bit bored by the whinging, but perhaps that’s teenagers for you. The cherry-picking of mythology and characters from all over the world was a nice touch – it certainly avoided being eurocentric, which is always nice to see, and plays into a bit of a Jungian idea of the great subconscious with these commons themes that can (maybe) be seen. And I especially loved that Hadrian’s adventures mostly took place in a city - THE city, the great underlying city, what every city dreams of being. While I do love me some epic horse-riding and camping out, grand fantasy played out on city streets also has a lot of appeal.*
There are, though, some aspects that grated. Hadrian’s absolute insistence on finding Ellis – and that people are willing to help – strained credibility: HELLO, everyone ELSE appears to be dead, so how exactly are you planning on finding one probably-dead girl in the great uber-city? I was hoping right from the start that Ellis was going to turn out to be more than just a girl, and that all of the non-humans knew it, since that would excuse it to some extent. The first was correct but not the second, so my annoyance with that plot element still exists. Sometimes the mashing of multiple mythologies did not gel for me, and the explanation of the Three Realms really didn’t work for me. I can’t explain why; I don’t think it’s my faith getting in the way, since it rarely does with this sort of fantasy (that is, the sort that’s clearly playing with pagan ideas, rather than Crystal Dragon Jesus types).
I did finish it, which means I did enjoy it even if I didn’t adore it. I own the second Books of the Cataclysm, The Blood Debt. While it’s not next on my list, I will definitely be reading it at some point… and from there I’ll see whether I get around to the other trilogy that this is actually a prequel to, the Books of the Change.
You can get The Crooked Letter from Fishpond.
*Hmm. Do I need to read Lord of the Rings again sometime? I’m getting an itch…