Review: Dead Country by Max Gladstone

Review: Dead Country by Max GladstoneDead Country (Craft Wars, #1) by Max Gladstone
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, horror, urban fantasy
Series: Craft Wars #1, Craft Sequence #7
Pages: 256
Published by Tordotcom on March 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook

Since her village chased her out with pitchforks, Tara Abernathy has resurrected gods, pulled down monsters, averted wars, and saved a city, twice. She thought she'd left her dusty little hometown forever. But that was before her father died.
As she makes her way home to bury him, she finds a girl, as powerful and vulnerable and lost as she once was. Saving her from the raiders that haunt the area, twisted by a remnant of the God Wars, Tara changes the course of the world.
Max Gladstone's world of the Craft is a fantasy setting like no other. When Craftspeople rose up to kill the gods, they built corporate Concerns from their corpses and ushered in a world of rapacious capital. Those who work the Craft wield laws like knives and weave chains from starlight and soulstuff. Dead Country is the first book in the Craft Wars Trilogy, a tight sequence of novels that will bring the sprawling saga of the Craft to its end, and the perfect entry point for this incomparable world.

My Review:

Home may be the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. But just because they have to take you in, it doesn’t mean they have to let you stay. As Tara Abernathy discovered back when she was young and desperate, scared and hurting,  abused mentally, emotionally and magically. She came home to tiny Edgemont, on the edge of the Badlands, looking for a place to heal and recover.

What she found back then was an increasing tide of raids by the hungry, cursed Raiders, and a town that was too hidebound to do what was really necessary to fight back. So, in her youth and arrogance, she tried to do it for them. They forced her out with torches and pitchforks.

She can’t go home again – not after what she – and they – did. Or so she believes. And she’s probably right.

But when she receives a message from her mother that her father is dead, she goes anyway. To find out what happened. For the funeral. For closure of one kind or another – even if it’s at the pointy ends of a new set of pitchforks.

It should be different now. After years of life-altering practice in the necromantic contracting of the Craft, Tara has not merely power but the knowledge of when to – and more importantly when not to – use that power in the face of people who are mostly just plain afraid of what she can do.

Edgemont, and the entire Badlands, are under siege by the hungry, infected, cursed Raiders, at the end of their collective rope and facing inevitable absorption by a curse that consumes everything it touches including the bodies of its victims. Victims who are compelled to hunt for more grist for the mill of a curse that has become more voracious and deadly in Tara’s absence.

Edgemont needs someone to save it, and Tara needs to strike back at everyone who ran her out of town back when she needed them most – but who, conversely and perversely – made her the power she has become.

She’ll spit in their collective eye by saving them all. Whether they want her to or believe she can – or not. All while she attempts to train an apprentice, protect her mother and fight off a curse. Only to discover that she is returning to the beginning of all things just at the point where the end is entirely too nigh.

Escape Rating A: Once upon a time (back in 2012) there was a book titled Three Parts Dead, the first book in the Craft Sequence, set in a world where Craft equals magic, and where that magic is rooted – often literally – in a combination of contract law and necromancy.

Yes, all lawyers are necromancers in this world. It’s still a WOW concept and seems totally and utterly RIGHT, both at the same time.

In that utterly awesome opening book, Tara Abernathy – yes, the same Tara Abernathy, pictured on that cover of Three Parts Dead to the left – was at the beginning of her career, fairly fresh out of the whole torches and pitchforks experience.

Dead Country is the golden opportunity I didn’t know I was waiting for to return to the world of the Craft Sequence without needing to remember every detail of this intricately detailed world. (Contract law, remember? LOTS of details. Positively – and negatively – entire metric buttloads of details – generally arising from the dead bodies – including butts – of gods.) The whole thing is intensely fascinating and I loved the series but I got a bit lost at the end and didn’t finish. I’ll probably go back.

But Dead Country is a starting over kind of book. While Tara comes home with all her years of experience and power, she is returning back to her point of origin – in more ways than she believes as she’s on her way back for her father’s funeral. That return kicks off Craft Wars, a new sequence in the Craft Sequence, and provides the perfect place for new readers to get themselves stuck right in – as well as giving returning readers a way of coming back to a place once loved but not remembered in detail. Just as Tara herself does.

In Three Parts Dead, Tara was still a neophyte, giving readers the opportunity to learn about her world and her Craft right along with her. In Dead Country, she is older and sadder, if not always wiser, just as the readers (and probably the author) are, making her yet again a character that the reader can identify with.

Her parents’ home and village have gotten smaller, she has gotten bigger, and the world has gotten darker and more dangerous, as it does as we move further into adulthood. At the same time, the old fears and the old grudges are all still very much active, and it’s all too easy to slip back into the same old patterns of thought and action. As Tara does. As we do.

The overarching story of the series is a huge one – as it should be. Tara discovers that saving the world is part of some old business she thought she’d finished. She faces traumas both old and new, driven to clean up the messes she left behind, and it nearly kills her.

But death is not an ending when you’re a necromancer. Unless it’s the death of her entire world. Or her soul. Hopefully, we’ll all find out in the second book of the Craft Wars, equally hopefully in the not too terribly distant future.

Review: Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone + Giveaway

Review: Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone + GiveawayFour Roads Cross (Craft Sequence, #5) by Max Gladstone
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Series: Craft Sequence #5
Pages: 416
Published by Tor Books on July 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

The great city of Alt Coulumb is in crisis. The moon goddess Seril, long thought dead, is back—and the people of Alt Coulumb aren't happy. Protests rock the city, and Kos Everburning's creditors attempt a hostile takeover of the fire god's church. Tara Abernathy, the god's in-house Craftswoman, must defend the church against the world's fiercest necromantic firm—and against her old classmate, a rising star in the Craftwork world.
As if that weren't enough, Cat and Raz, supporting characters from Three Parts Dead, are back too, fighting monster pirates; skeleton kings drink frozen cocktails, defying several principles of anatomy; jails, hospitals, and temples are broken into and out of; choirs of flame sing over Alt Coulumb; demons pose significant problems; a farmers' market proves more important to world affairs than seems likely; doctors of theology strike back; Monk-Technician Abelard performs several miracles; The Rats! play Walsh's Place; and dragons give almost-helpful counsel.

My Review:

The world of the Craft Sequence is guaranteed to give any reader a lingering book hangover. This is a world that requires the reader to throw out all of their preconceived notions about religion, magic, gods, demons, law, order and chaos. Not necessarily in that order, and on a continuously repeating cycle.

This world makes the reader think. And think. And re-think.

In this universe where the gods are not only made real, but can be fought in real terms and killed, worship is power and power is money and money is power and the ends all too often justify the means. And the lawyers are necromancers. Or the other way around.

But the story underneath all of the absolutely mind-blowing trappings turns out to be about relationships. There are four roads that cross. The relationship between Craftswoman Tara Abernathy and Priest Abelard of Kos the Everburning, the relationship between Justice Cat and Vampire Raz, the relationship between Tara and Shale, a gargoyle child of the moon-goddess Seril, and at the heart of the mess, the relationship between Kos the Everburning and Seril the moon goddess.

Seril was supposed to have been killed 40 years ago, at the end of the God Wars that brought The King in Red into power in Dresediel Lex. But she wasn’t. It’s hard to kill a god. Not impossible, but damnably difficult. Now that Seril is back, someone is using her as a lever to take down Kos. Even though taking down Kos will send not just all of his contracts, but all of the financial markets that use Kosite debt as a baseline, into financial chaos.

The mess that will ensue could make the Great Depression, the Great Recession and Brexit fade into a pinprick, even if they had all happened at once.

What happens is a race against time. Tara wants to save the city that holds her friends from the catastrophic bloodshed and chaos. Abelard wants his god to remain in control of his own fate, and to continue to be a real part of the lives of his citizens and worshippers. Seril wants to survive. And someone wants to cause the downfall of the last of the old gods, no matter who gets killed, or how many dark means they need to use to justify their grisly ends.

three parts dead by max gladstoneEscape Rating A: Nothing about the world of the Craft Sequence is anything like any fantasy you have ever read. Even the sequence itself was published out of order; Three Parts Dead is the first book, Four Roads Cross is the fifth.

But read them all, because the creation of this world fills in one complex layer at a time. Just like the series of interlocking contracts and agreements written by the Craft.

While Four Roads Cross sometimes seems as if it directly follows Three Parts Dead, the events of the intervening works also seem to influence the action. Or at least the knowledge that the reader gains about the world seems to influence either the action or one’s feelings about it and understanding of it. Read the series, and be prepared to sit and think for a while in between.

(The author has stated that the numbers in the titles reflect the internal chronological order of the books, as opposed to the publication order. Pick an order and dive in.)

There is a lot in this story about the way that humans create gods in their own image, and the way that those images in turn influence the humans who fall under their sway. Seril needs her worshippers every bit as much as her worshippers need her. What makes the relationship between gods and humans different in this world from our theology is that the benefits of the relationship are tangible for both parties. Seril gets power, and in return she provides real aid and assistance.

last first snow by max gladstoneLike the other books in this series, this one rides on the strength of the different and surprising relationships that have formed, particularly in the wake of the events of Three Parts Dead. We also see a much different perspective on Craft and the persons who practice it than we have previously. Elayne Kevarian, the Craftswoman who carries much of the action in Three Parts Dead and Last First Snow, has stripped herself of almost all human relationships in her quest for the ultimate in Craft and eventual immortality. At the end of Last First Snow, we see her wondering about some of her choices.

Tara Abernathy, Elayne’s apprentice in Three Parts Dead, is choosing another road. In spite of everything her craft has taught her, she forges friendships, sometimes in spite of herself. The conflict in the end is about those who use others for their own ends, and those like Tara, and the goddess Seril, who take their strength from their relationships with others.

Virtue may not be its own reward, but at least in this story, there is strength in even a fractured unity. And it is a wonder to read, and to behold.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Tor Books is letting me give away a copy of Four Roads Cross to one lucky US/CAN commenter:

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