Max Gladstone, The Craft Sequence, Tor,
"My oh my, C..." are you thinking, "Do you really think I have time enough to read something as long as a series with 6 volumes published?"
That's the beauty of The Craft Sequence, a fantasy series by Max Gladstone: each book can be read independently from the others and you could pick one and not go back to the next one for months. Unless, that is, you end up as engrossed into it as I was.
The world The Craft Sequence takes place on had gods on it, actual gods, who were part of life. But Craftsmen realised they could imitate their powers and soon a war broke out between Craftsmen who wanted to rid the world of its gods and replace them with their human efficiency and their own magic. In some places, Craftsmen won the war and killed the gods ; in others, gods and human cohabit still, but human technology is dependent on a god's magic.
And all over the world, the currency is soulstuff, bits of your soul that feeds the magic. In such a world, treachery is rife and magic is a business.
From such an interesting premise, Gladstone wrote six stories which all feature different places in the world and different characters, even if some are recurring, but at the heart of them is always this relationship between humans and the gods they fed with their hopes and prayers, whether they are dead, just dormant, about to be brought back or unjustly fought by fanatics.
"Oh, so if all books are independent from each other, then I can start by the second one." That was me, and that was a bad idea. The first one really eases you in the economical, theological and magical system. So yes, even if the books can be read independently, start with the first one. Furthermore, Last First Snow which was published as a fourth novel takes place 20 years before the events in Two Serpents Rise, and there's a great sense of tragedy, in the purest imitation of the Greek genre, to read the events unfolding in Last First Snow until they reach the shape of things to come (or which have already come) in Two Serpents Rise.
The first one, Three Parts Dead, is a bit of an outsider by some aspects. In it, the influence of Pratchett and McMaster Bujold on the style and the characters can be very obvious. It was, in a way, a strong point to me, until I hit the second book, Three Serpents Rise, whose tone shifts dramatically, as do the characters who felt to me as a bit of noir clichés despite a story that I found better than in Three Parts Dead. But as the third, Full Fathom Five, manages a bit of a synthesis of both tones, I suppose Gladstone had to find his feet and explore a bit the tonality he really wanted to give to his series.
The writing goes from strength to strength, and it is often very good.
Most of the characters - except the ones in Three Serpents Rise that left me cold, but I'm happy to recognise it may be due only to personal taste - are very endearing and all are interestingly conflicted in this world that lives with the aftermath of a war against gods. There's also a very good representation of female characters, characters of colour and QUILTBAG characters.
I also particularly appreciated that Gladstone explored different parts of his world: a place inspired by the Aztec culture, mythology and geography, another one inspired by Polynesian cultures, mythologies and geography... The Ruin of Angels uses a city surimposed on another city, something readers of The City and The City will certainly enjoy.
In a sense, The Craft Sequence is very much a series of theological corporate thrillers but it also raises some interesting spiritual questions with, I suppose, different answers from the reader, according to whether they are a believer, an atheist or an agnostic.
It adds a nice twist to all the running to and fro, solving the mystery of who done it, and dashing of dastardly plans that are the staple of corporate thrillers.
The series is very much action packed and this will definitely please some readers, while adding nonetheless enough originality to make it highly enjoyable by readers who usually grimace at that.
So if you are into action packed fantasy novels, in a highly original world, with quite interesting characters and that you aren't averse to corporate shenanigans, this will definitely be a series of books that you will enjoy reading.
The writer's website.
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I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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