Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
Published: Tor, 2016
Series: Book 5 of the Craft Sequence
“After helping to save Kos Everburning, Tara has remained in the town of Alt Coulomb as a Craftswoman advisor to the church. Soon, she finds herself in the center of a new crisis. Kos’s love, the moon goddess Seril, was thought to have been killed in the God Wars. However, Seril Undying has returned, as have her gargoyle children.
The people of Alt Coulomb know Seril only as a scary story to frighten children, so they are not going to easily welcome her return with open hearts. Her lack of followers makes Seril weak, and Kos’s love for her makes her a liability. Those who do business with Kos point to her as an undisclosed financial risk, and some are using her in a legal battle to overturn Kos’s power. Tara and her friends will need to find a way to protect Seril, Kos and the city from disaster.”~Allie
This is the fifth book in the Craft Sequence that I’ve read, and I intend to keep reading them. I just recently bought book six, A Ruin of Angels, and Gladstone has shown no sign of leaving the series anytime soon.
On Gladstone’s website, I’ve read that this book is intended to be a finale novel for the “first season” of the Craft Sequence. It is also the first book of the series that I would call a strict sequel, and it ties together the stories and characters of most of the other Craft books so far. Because of this, I’d recommend that readers check out the other books (at least Three Parts Dead, and ideally also Last First Snow and Two Serpents Rise) before digging into this one. The story follows up the events in Alt Coulomb of Three Parts Dead, and characters and places from the other two novels also make an appearance. Full Fathom Five, though, happens chronologically after Four Roads Cross, and thus can be read afterward. Four Roads Cross doesn’t do a lot of hand-holding with respect to remembering what has come before. If you’re like me, and it’s been years since you read the first book of the series, it might help to give yourself a quick refresher before starting.
With so many recurring and even some new characters, Four Roads Cross is bursting with different subplots, all going on in parallel. I read the book slowly, occasionally interrupted by life-related stuff, so it sometimes got hard juggling so many characters and narrative threads. I think it would have flowed better if I’d read the novel at a quicker pace. It may have also made it more difficult that the various subplots were so different in tone. There was a quiet, domestic story about faith and family, a cop thriller, a crisis of faith in church hierarchy, a quest, and more. All of the plotlines were focused on the same crisis and shared some thematic similarities, but I felt like they never fully merged. However, I enjoyed the commonalities in the stories, such as the exploration of the role religious faith plays in the lives of different kinds of people.
Gladstone’s world is as vibrant and quirky as ever, and his incisive and often hilarious writing style keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. In some ways, his style is similar to Terry Pratchett, in that humor and references to the fantastical sit comfortably alongside more serious observations about human nature. For instance, here are the thoughts of the protagonist Tara, addressing the rejection one can find returning one’s hometown with new and unpopular ideas:
“A year ago she stood in a graveyard beneath a starry sky, and the people of her hometown approached her with pitchforks and knives and torches and murder in their mind, all because she’d tried to show them the world was bigger than they thought.
Admittedly, there might have been a way to show them that didn’t involve zombies.” ~p. 25
Tara is one of my favorite characters in the series, for her intelligence and resourcefulness, as well as for the fallibility of her judgment (as evidenced by the zombie incident). Her story is also very post-grad, dealing with student loans, the fallout from having a predatory academic advisor, and having to choose between pursuing academia or industry-- or in this case, church advising or craft firms. As someone not too long out of grad-school myself, it is very easy to sympathize with her and her problems. Though I’m focusing on Tara here, plenty of other fascinating characters return in this novel, such as the former-addict Cat, the vampire pirate Raz, the gargoyles, and the skeletal Craftsman The King in Red, among others. On the more ordinary side, we also get a peek into the lives of a handful of people who sell at the local market. All of these characters have an important role to play in the crisis coming to Alt Coulomb, and it was a lot of fun to see how each story came to a conclusion.
My Rating: 4/5
Four Roads Cross is a direct sequel to Three Parts Dead, and it also incorporates characters and places from the other books of the series. The novel concerns the return of the goddess Seril, Kos’s love, and the crisis that her current weakness may bring about for the city of Alt Coulomb. It features a lot of familiar characters (Tara, Cat, Raz, Abelard, Caleb, etc…) as well as some new faces. Different sets of characters are involved in a variety of plotlines, each of which feels different in tone, though they all address the same crisis. There’s a ton going on in this novel, and plenty of characters to keep straight. It’s worth the effort, though, and I enjoyed the time I have spent in Gladstone’s unusual world of economics, faith, and magic. Overall, it felt like a fitting finale for the story that began in Three Parts Dead, and I am happy to know that it isn’t going to be the final novel of the Craft Sequence.