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Four Roads Cross: A Novel of the Craft Sequence Hardcover – July 26, 2016
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“Enthralling.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Last First Snow
“Elegant and ferocious.” ―Daniel José Older, author of Half Resurrection Blues, on Last First Snow
“Brilliant, elegant, epic, astonishing, smart, gritty…. Last First Snow is another wondrous visit to the fantastic world of the Craft Sequence.” ―Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings
“Gladstone gives us wonderfully relevant bits and pieces of the modern world, turned upside-down and inside-out and garnished with skeleton kings, serpent gods, and lawyer-magicians. It's glorious.” ―Django Wexler, author of The Thousand Names, on Last First Snow
“I'm having Max Gladstone killed. He's too good already to be allowed to live. If this is early work, the rest of us are out of a job.” ―Elizabeth Bear on Full Fathom Five
“Gladstone packs more ideas into a chapter than most writers manage in a full novel.” ―Brian Staveley on Full Fathom Five
“Newcomers and fans of the series alike will enjoy the mystery, demon-caused mayhem and fast-moving plot in this stellar, engaging read.” ―RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ stars, on Two Serpents Rise
About the Author
MAX GLADSTONE went to Yale, where he wrote a short story that became a finalist in the Writers of the Future competition. He is the author of the Craft Sequence: Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, Full Fathom Five, Last First Snow, and Four Roads Cross. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
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The main conflict relates to business contracts, loans, and so forth. The god Kos, whose city is Alt Coulomb, and his stability guarantee financial transactions worldwide. I'm not great at explaining the details here, and maybe that is because I only got to read this book in 10-15 minute chunks over a period of several weeks. Kos's stability is viewed as threatened since he is helping the goddess Seril, recently returned from the dead. Seril is a liability for Kos and Tara and friends are tasked with proving Kos can handle his obligations.
This doesn't sound very exciting, but the author manages to put a human side on the story. One way Seril can gain power is to have worshippers, and through the story of some folks who run stalls in a local market, we learn about how that worship takes root in the city. The families of the merchants don't interact much with the main, Craft-based storyline, but they are sympathetic and the individuals (at least some of them) are fairly well-fleshed out for minor characters.
I don't feel like we learn much more about the main, named characters, but they are familiar and friendly faces after several intervening books that introduced new characters, and there are a few nuances added. There are quite a few references to Tara's student loans, and at first I just thought this was a minor detail relating to the fact that she's not making much money working for the Church of Kos, but it actually becomes a plot point at the end. So pay attention to the references to Tara's schooling. Anyway, I thought character development in this book was appropriate for its place in the overall series.
There's not a ton of worldbuilding to be done here. We've already been in Alt Coulomb, we've already been inside the Church of Kos, we already know of the Blacksuits who are agents of Justice. We have seen some other Craft-related deals go down in other books so the author is slowly building up a set of rules. I found it a bit odd that sabotage of the other side is a technique allowed in court (at least, it seems that is what is going down near the end). The setting is much like urban fantasy except that it's not in our world. There are means of travel over long distances that are not magical (maybe you're hanging in a compartment under a dragon instead of taking an airplane), there are hospitals described in a way that makes them seem modern, there are huge container ships, etc.
The writing style fits the world. I feel like -- in this and in past Craft Sequence novels -- the language is suitably contemporary while trying to avoid references to at least major geographical places, people, etc. that exist in the actual world. I hope that makes sense. Anyway, it fits the scene that's been set pretty well.
The one aspect that is really keeping me from giving this the full five stars is the demon infestation (well, there are a lot of them). I'm still a bit confused as to why so many have come from their place of origin. One attacks a goddess far away from Alt Coulomb. Many hide in people who are thought to be zombies (essentially people who have given away enough of their souls to get out of debt, but who then have to do menial labor, or perhaps I have the order of things reversed; at any rate, they're not the sort of horror-novel zombies that go after the living). Some show up in Alt Coulomb. Although I feel like the incidents with demons are tied together nicely, I also kind of feel like the concept was introduced a bit too late in the game to fit well into the overall story.
Overall, though, this volume did a much better job of melding business details and real people's lives than the past book, and I look forward to reading more set in this world!
Four Roads Cross is my favorite book in the series, sliding in right above book six, The Ruin of Angels.
There are cameos and nods across the rest of the series, making this feel somewhat like a season finale, and what a great ride it is.
Dig into action, debate Craft and ethics, theology and family. And marvel at the world.
Even if you have, you may find the story a little confusing, as I sometimes did, because it involves three interwoven threads and sets of characters. All, however, are involved with the fact that Seril, the moon goddess who first appeared in Full Fathom Five, is gaining strength and adherents, but She is still weak—and, as such, represents a threat to Kos the Ever-Burning, Her godly former lover, and therefore to Alt Coulomb, the city He protects. Adherents of the powerful Craft, investment bankers whose currency is souls, want to block this potential instability by destroying Seril and, if necessary, Kos as well. Abelard, Tara, Cat, their friends, and the gargoyles who serve Seril must find ways to protect Her, whether these involve legalistic maneuvering or physical battle.
Because so much was going on, I didn’t find this story as emotionally moving as I did Full Fathom Five. However, it provided more details than most of Gladstone’s books about this half-strange, half-familiar world in which religion and economics are so closely interlocked that they form different aspects of a single system. (“The church serves as a bank,” a cardinal of Kos says. “We lend and guarantee and underwrite.”) There’s a hint of Lovecraft, or more precisely of Charles Stross’s Laundry books, in the air at times too: the gods are actually “n-dimensional noosphere entities, half-network and half-standing wave,” given humanoid form so that people can more or less comprehend them—but “don’t go too far, since a simulation this detailed is a new cave chamber inside the old philosopher’s cavern, and if you’re not careful you might tunnel into another chamber already occupied by capital-letter Things.”
There are also some wonderful descriptions, mixing metaphor and vivid detail and showing both similarities and differences to our own world. Airports in Gladstone’s universe, for instance, are quite similar to those here—but the planes are dragons. On the other hand, office coffee in Kos’s church is like office coffee anywhere else: “grim, nasty stuff, notes of hydrofluoric acid, undertones of charcoal, ground glass mouthfeel, aftertaste of squid.” All in all, I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys fantasy with excellent characters, plenty of action, and an interestingly complex background system as well.