Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence

A very long time ago now, when I first started writing on, I had intended the site to be mostly book reviews, and sometimes even essays about fantasy and sf books in general. That never really happened, for one reason or another. However, there are a few books I want to review in the coming weeks, and I'm pleased to be able to fulfil some of my original thinking.

The first ones I'm going to look at are Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise, the first two books in the Craft Sequence.

Some spoilers are inevitable, but I've tried to keep them to an absolute minimum.

The TL;DR version: Both of them are excellent books, read them.

For more detail: Gladstone has taken the trouble to construct a complex, deep world, in which magic and gods work in interesting ways. There are shades of Jim Butcher's thinking in the careful structuring of magic and its associated systems, and something almost like Barbara Hambly in the lively and convincing existence of his characters. I don't really have higher praise than "like Jim Butcher and Barbara Hambly", really.

Three Parts Dead is details the initial work of Tara Abernathy for an international necromantic firm called Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao. It's worth noting that Tara is a black woman, depicted as such on the cover, without any impractical poses (or at least the cover I've seen), and that then has no bearing on her activity through the book. It's a pleasing aspect.

The world is essentially a modern one (though not our modern one) where magic is a standard part of legal, industrial, and religious processes. I love this concept dearly, and Gladstone provides ways to explore it throughout the novel, as Tara gets to grips with places and concepts she's not wholly familiar with. There are interesting twists on the idea of contracts and souls, which I appreciate since I've been playing with similar ideas in my own RPG campaigns, and solid characterisation. Small details early on play out perfectly to the end of the story, too. It makes perfect sense, for instance, that a priest of a fire god should be protected from smoke damage, and thus immune to any side effects of his chain-smoking.

Overall, it's a really good read, and rated two "dammit, is this my stop already" realisations.

Two Serpents Rise is perhaps not quite as startlingly good. It's partly because it's the second in the series, I think. And it's also partly because the specific setting's influences and origins in this world are a little clearer to me; they're closely related to pre-Columbian Mexica. The wider setting is the same, and while I didn't see any overt connections between the two books, the city of Alt Coulomb, where Three Parts Dead takes place, is mentioned a couple of times.

It's still an excellent book, though, depicting a few months in the life of Caleb Altemoc, a sometime gambler and professional risk manager working for Red King Consolidated in the city of Dresediel Lex. Caleb's ultimate employer is the Red King, a sorcerer old enough to have essentially converted himself into undead - something that seems to be a professional risk for higher-powered magic users. Two Serpents Rise deals with the nature of belief and godhood, and does so in an urban setting with modern thinking.

The next book in the series, Full Fathom Five, is out later this month. I'm looking forward to it greatly.

Posted by Drew Shiel at July 1, 2014 4:24 PM

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