Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

Last First Snow by Max Gladstone
Published: Tor, 2015
Series: Book 4 of the Craft Sequence

The Book:

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, but the Skittersill's people have their own ideas. 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.

As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, old gods stir in their graves, civil blood breaks to new mutiny, and profiteers circle in the desert sky. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own demons to save the peace-or failing that, to save as many people as they can.”

I am still loving Gladstone’s Craft Sequence!  I read this one as a part of a read-along, and you can see our spoiler-filled discussions here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.  I feel like the books and events in this series are now sufficiently interconnected that--even though each book has its own standalone story--you really need to have read the previous books in the series to best appreciate this one.
My Thoughts:

I was very eager to get to Last First Snow, because I had heard that it was a prequel involving the life of Elayne Kevarian, a recurring character from the previous books in the series.  I loved Elayne in Three Parts Dead, was excited to see her again briefly in Full Fathom Five, and was thrilled that she would be a viewpoint character this time around.  Her perspective of the world does not disappoint; she is the same intensely driven, intelligent, and powerful woman she is in the previous novels, and the insight into her emotions and reasoning only makes her more fascinating.  The other viewpoint character is actually someone I found very unsympathetic in his previous appearance, Temoc from Two Serpents Rise. I was surprised that he was such a compelling character-- a dedicated father, husband, and Eagle Knight who was struggling to reconcile his obligations to his faith and his people with those to his family.   I definitely didn’t agree with many of his choices, but I could see the pressures made him into the man he is in Two Serpents Rise.  

I think prequels are challenging stories to write, since the audience knows the direction everything has to go. In this case, while I knew the broad strokes of how the situation would end, the journey there was surprisingly tense.  I think my rough knowledge of what must eventually happen between Temoc, his gods, and his son added an extra layer of dread to my perception of events.  Even when things seem to be going well, I was always waiting for everything to fall apart.  The details of the central conflict, also, kept the tension high.  I might know roughly where Temoc and Elayne would end up, but I had no idea what would happen to any of the minor characters on either (or neither) side.  Each of these minor characters had their own motivations, even if they sought similar goals, which made the tangled knot of disagreements between the protestors and the developers that much more complicated.

Though the world may be full of Craft and supernatural religious power, the main conflict involves the very real-world problem of gentrification.  The developers want to improve the Skittersill, but their plans would destroy the existing community.  It was interesting to see both sides lay out their arguments during negotiations, and to see if there might be a way forward that addresses the concerns of both parties.  Of course, as in real life, the gradient of power did not only fall along economic lines.  The developers were largely secular Craftspeople, while the protesters mostly held to a religion that had fallen out of power in the Wars. The negotiations not only had to solve the immediate problems, but to avoid re-opening old, not-truly-healed wounds.  I don’t want to spoil the end of the book, but I think anyone who has read Two Serpents Rise will already know that something is bound to go violently wrong. I will say that the ending was powerful and heart-breaking, and--despite being a prequel--it held several unexpected surprises.  In my opinion, this is the strongest yet of the Craft Sequence novels.  

My Rating: 5 /5

Last First Snow is the fourth novel in the Craft Sequence.  It is a prequel that takes place in Dresediel Lex, featuring Elayne Kevarian and Temoc, in the years when Caleb from Two Serpents Rise is still a child.  Elayne and Temoc are both fascinating, conflicted characters, and they are accompanied by a cast of minor characters whose differing baggage and motivations impact the direction of the story.  The central conflict involves a protest against the proposed gentrification of the Skittersill, but this immediate issue also threatens to re-ignite violence in the city along ideological lines.  I thought this was a very powerful and tragic story, and it is my favorite novel of the Craft Sequence to date.

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