Last First Snow by Max Gladstone. ★★★★★
Last First Snow was amazing. Is Max Gladstone getting better with each book he writes? It sure feels like it.
Forty years ago the world was changed forever during the God Wars, and the city of Dresediel Lex was either conquered or liberated, depending on who you ask. The King in Red, Temoc, and Elayne are all veterans of that war. But now they meet again – at a bargaining table over an urban renewal project in the Skittersill district in an effort to find a peaceful solution to the Skittersill residents protests. However, there are many fractions who don’t want peace, and blood is soon to be spilled.
Last First Snow is a prequel chronologically the first in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. Elayne, Temoc and the King in Red are supporting characters from two earlier books, Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. Last First Snow stands completely independent, and it might be a good idea to read it before Two Serpents Rise so that you won’t know some plot points. The entire series is fantastic and doesn’t get the love it deserves, so I highly encourage you to try it, which ever book you pick up first.
Max Gladstone is an amazing writer. He has a knack for flowing prose and beautiful descriptions. See this description of a printer’s workshop:
“Copper, iron, steel, and lead clacked, clattered, and convulsed. Gears realigned and pistons pounded. Torrents of paper surged over drums the size of carriages. Folding machines snapped their jaws. Guillotine blades cut long strips of newsprint into pages. Surgical lights slammed into every surface and edge. She breathed a lungful of hot paper and vaporized ink and melting lead.”
However, I think the greatest strength of Last First Snow is the complicated characters at it’s center. I hadn’t liked Temoc in Two Serpents Rise, but he’s a very different person in Last First Snow. Yet he’s making choices that set him on the path towards becoming who he was in Two Serpents Rise. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s excellent character development.
Elayne is a craftswoman, which is sort of like a cross between lawyer and magic user. She’s easily the most sympathetic of the three main characters, mainly due to her desire for peace and belief in the importance of individual lives. It’s interesting to see some of her reflections on her background – she fought in the wars when still a teenager, and it’s clearly had an impact on who she is in Last First Snow.
Kopil, the King in Red, never gets POV sections like Temoc or Elayne, but he is clearly a major player in Last First Snow. The King in Red is interesting because it would be so easy for him to be completely horrible and unhuman. He does come close to it sometimes but on the whole I’d say he isn’t. Kopil is nostalgic for the wars, when everything seemed much clearer to him, and he reacts like he’s still in them. He’s a hard character to get a hold of. Is he a villain? You can see why he does the things he does, even if you can’t agree with them. I think for these reasons he’s my favorite character.
“And you would have the blood of thousands on your hands.”
“That blood’s already there. I’d add a fresh coat to what’s left over from the Wars.”
“Do you think our colleagues will look kindly on a mass murderer?”
“What is war but mass murder? And they called me a hero for that.”
The world Max Gladstone’s created is absolutely phenomenal. There’s so much originality here, from the setting to the magic system to… everything. It mirrors our own world in many ways – Dresediel Lex is a city from an Aztec based culture that was never conquered by the Spanish – but is different in so many ways. I love how Max Gladstone doesn’t try to write a single epic that spans the breadth of the world but instead creates a tapestry made out of the experiences of fairly ordinary people, if talking skeletons can be considered “ordinary” I suppose.
“Wars beget wars.”
Last First Snow starts slow but steadily builds up to an intense, heart stopping finale that brought tears to my eyes. This is a phenomenal book that strikes many of the same cords for me as Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch. I can’t recommend it enough.