The Craft Sequence, II

Roman continues his look at Max Gladstone’s Craft sequence, looking at books four to six.

Forty years after the God Wars, Dresediel Lex bears the scars of liberation—especially in the Skittersill, a poor district still bound by the fallen gods’ decaying edicts. As long as the gods’ wards last, they strangle development; when they fail, demons will be loosed upon the city.

The King in Red hires Elayne Kevarian of the Craft firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to fix the wards and redevelop the district, but the Skittersill’s people have their own ideas about the appropriate form of urban renewal. The current proposal means that they won’t be able to afford to stay in the gentrified district.  A protest rises against Elayne’s work, led by Temoc, a warrior-priest turned community organizer who wants to build a peaceful future for his city, his wife, and his young son. Someone’s circulating a broadsheet paper to further inflame the situation.

Clearly, someone stands to profit if the Skittersills can be evicted.

As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, gods stir in their graves, civil protest becomes an uprising; profiteers circle. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own supporters to save the peace—or failing that, to save as many as they can.

This is an interesting look at urban renewal, and continues the connection between sorcery and accountancy which is at the heart of the craft and the use of soulstuff as currency. Though the fourth novel published, it actually occurs first in the sequence.

In Four Roads Cross, 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, as their religion had painted Seril as a deserter, who left the city and her lover to die in the God Wars. Not all the residents are happy about welcoming back Seril — and her gargoyles. Protests rock the city, and Kos Everburning’s creditors attempt a hostile takeover of the fire god’s church. They claim his support of Seril (his lost love) is an unaccounted for burden which threatens Kos’ soulstuff balance. 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, from Three Parts Dead, are back too, fighting monster pirates; 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.

As usual, there are wonderful descriptions of locations, like this one of the wharves and their smell:

“Round out the odor with a long list of prosaic cargo: saffron, sandalwood, and cinnamon, paper, steel, demon-haunted manufactured goods, long planks of magisterium and sheafs of synthetic dragonscale (inferior in all respects to the real thing, save only for the practical point that the synthetic variety need not be harvested from a dragon), bananas by the crate and oranges by the tube and soybeans by the ton, green bottle after green bottle of wine, and of course the flat nothing-scent of the airtight vessels made from the processed bones of the eons-dead monsters in which alchemists stored their toxic earths and strange silvers.”

It’s all a rollicking adventure, with a few surprise twists. Theological disputes take corporeal form in a world where Gods exist. And the idea that accountants would hold Gods to ransom is extraordinary.

The first five novels are available in an omnibus edition, making up what Max calls “season one” of the craft series. Season two opens with a long novel, dealing with the key questions of what happens when Gods die.

The Ruin of Angels shows us what happens when old beliefs aren’t displaced by the new orthodoxy.

The God Wars destroyed the city of Alikand. Now, a century and a half and a great many construction contracts later, Agdel Lex rises in its place. Dead deities litter the surrounding desert, streets shift when people aren’t looking, a squidlike tower dominates the skyline, and the foreign Iskari Rectification Authority keeps strict order in this once-independent city―while treasure seekers, criminals, combat librarians, nightmare artists, angels, demons, dispossessed knights, grad students, and other fools gather in its ever-changing alleys, hungry for the next big score.
Priestess/investment banker Kai Pohala (last seen in Full Fathom Five) hits town to corner Agdel Lex’s burgeoning nightmare startup scene, and to visit her estranged sister Ley. But Kai finds Ley desperate, at the centre of a shadowy, and rapidly unravelling, business deal.

This is basically a caper novel, with very high stakes, as Ley leads a team back in time to retrieve volumes from the city’s past.

When Ley ends up on the run, wanted for a crime she most definitely committed, Kai races to track her sister down before the Authority finds her first. But Ley has her own plans, involving her ex-girlfriend, a daring heist into the god-haunted desert, and, perhaps, freedom for an occupied city. Because the old city of Alikand might not be completely dead ― though some people want to finish the job.

This novel resolves some questions which have been previously raised about what happens to old beliefs, and the attempted replacement with new ones. Agdel Lex is a palimpsest, with later cities and their underlying beliefs overlaying earlier cities. Despite the best efforts of the IRA, old beliefs still filter through.

An interesting read, providing a broader understanding of events hinted at in the earleir volumes. More stories are promissed in 2019.