Second Cataclysm by Jason F. Smith and C. Parker Garlitz is a fantasy tale that zooms in on its characters, and through them we are only introduced to pieces of the world they live in. It takes place in the city of Demon’s Bluff which has different class structures that are touched upon. The magical system is one that drains the life force of the wielder, although this has been seen in other novels, this one makes it clear that a wizard can not only age himself through spell casting, but can also use his life up before his time. This raises the stakes for the use of magic and renders powerful wizards powerless. I loved the inclusion of wererats as the main fantastical creature we meet.
Second Cataclysm follows the story of Cael, Needle, Brynn and Mallet, who are trying to do their best to solve their problems. In Cael’s case, discover the truth about his parents’ death and make it right. Needle is trying to provide for his impoverished mother. Brynn is trying to solve the puzzle of her mother’s past and her brother Mallet is trying to make his father proud of him. Finally each of these character’s pasts and motivations cause them to come together, although they still retain their original goals.
They learn that their parents were part of a secret organization created to thwart the return of the legendary Cult of Yex, and now they are expected to take up their mantle. The reader is also informed that there are assassins who want to kill them, as well as individuals who want the teens for their own nefarious purposes.
The storyline takes place over the course of one day, but contains flashbacks to the main character’s pasts. There are time stamps, which as well as placing the sections in a timeline, also countdown to an earthquake before it happens. The suspense is heightened by the knowledge that the earthquake imminent. Numerous quotes from different books and papers, add an epic feel to the tale, as we learn that the circumstances of the day have been building for thousands of years.
The pacing was not plodding, but it takes some time to get introduced to everyone and their motivations. If the reader is not paying careful attention to the time stamps and the details of the writings quoted then it is easy to get lost in the jumps between characters and time. There is little repetition.
Smith and Garlitz use smell as, well as taste, sound, and the other senses in their descriptions, which helps create, vibrate scenery within the tale.
“This was Raju’s favorite place in the entire world. A multitude of smells wafted over him, from warm bread baking in clay ovens, to the open air grills starting to cook meat, to the stench of the hide tanners, to the pungent smell of unwashed people trying to mask their odor with scented oils. Minstrels tuned their lyres, street acrobats stretched in preparation for a day of performing and snake charmers were testing their flutes. The apothecary tent offered herbal poultices, which smelled awful and tasted worse. Lepers, banned from the waterholes and the physician tents, gathered mummified in stained white rags begging alms from the merciful. Astrologers and entrails diviners set up their booths, while a long-bearded religious zealot dressed only in a loincloth waved his arms and prophesied certain doom for the unrepentant. Merchants, selling everything from bread to fish to wine to roasted scorpions, began to call out to passersby”
The main theme explored in Second Cataclysm is the role of destiny in shaping your fate. Both Cael and Mallet are thrust into roles that should determine that they become evil, but as Cael’s grandfather reminds him, fate does not have the final say. There are also subtle messages about poverty, ambition, and evil.
Second Cataclysm is only the first part of a longer story which continues the adventures of our main characters. In that way, this book is only setup for the larger the tale. I would recommend this book to readers who want a fantasy with a different time structure, intimately focused on the main characters.