Max Gladstone’s critically acclaimed Craft Sequence series of novels got its fifth installment this year and the latest release, Four Roads Cross, says so much about how his writing has grown over time and how much depth the series has gained.
Disclaimer: I’m a huge Craft Sequence fan, as it you might remember from my reviews of Full Fathom Five and Last First Snow, but I wasn’t immediately on board with its first book, Three Parts Dead. When I read that book, I wondered: Why do people love this so much? I did appreciate things about it (the black female lead represented on the cover, multiple female characters yet no sign of a romance subplot, the unique setting) but I couldn’t embrace it since I found it kind of . . . dull, honestly. My biggest problem was that I couldn’t really connect with Tara since we didn’t learn much about her. Having now read Four Roads Cross in its entirety, I can now say that this is no longer the case. This is another great entry into this series.
The basic plot is thus: A year after Three Parts Dead, Tara Abernathy now serves as the inhouse Craftswoman for the church of Kos the Everburning. The problem? The moon goddess Seril is back and the people aren’t happy. Protests rock the streets; journalists interfere; and one of Tara’s old classmates from the Hidden School is working with a necromantic firm to take over the church. Officer Catherine “Cat” Elle and her vampire friend Raz are also in this book, getting involved in all sorts of situations. Oh, and a farmer’s market plays a large role and adds an extra human element.
As with the previous entries, this book uses the Craft and the fictional gods as a way to talk about finances, the effect of religion in a post-industrial society, class struggles, and more. Every side is presented and even though Gladstone takes a hard look at modern values and society, he never falls into the trap of portraying the “old ways” as inherently superior. Just like in the current global nation-states most of us reside in, the characters of the Craft Sequence have to work to find the right balance. But don’t think this book is just about social issues or is depressing. There’s lots of cool worldbuilding, like the use of a dragon in one chapter or golems for travel. And there's plenty of action that's well-written and cinematic in scope.
The prose in this book shows how Gladstone’s writing has grown. Certain passages of this book were beautiful, though at times his descriptions were a bit over-wrought. His pacing has certainly improved. His dialogue has also gotten better with time.
My favorite thing about the book, as tends to be the case, were the characters. Of this cast, Cat shone to me. Her path to get over her addiction and her friendship with Raz, who was also great, was empowering and fun. Tara truly became a character to me in this book: now I understand her motivations, her struggles, insecurities, and I loved her relationship with Seril as they learned to work together and co-exist despite Tara’s lack of faith. Abelard continues to be a sympathetic and likable believer. New additions like Ellen Rafferty stood out. (For fans of the series, there are cameos of a few characters from the other books and they are great.) And that’s just a few of the dynamic and fascinating characters the book provides.
In summary, Four Roads Cross is a great entry into the Craft Sequence. It also serves as a proper sequel to Three Parts Dead, even improving on that book in many ways. It's not my favorite entry, as I'm still in love Last First Snow, but if you liked Three Parts Dead or if, like me, you were kind of "meh" on it but are interested in more of this world, give it a shot. If you're a fan of the Sequence in general, it continues the excellent quality Max Gladstone has become known for. I enthusiastically recommend it.