Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone. ★★★★1/2
Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence is one of the smartest, most imaginative fantasy series out there, and if you’re not reading it, you should be. It’s one of the best fantasy worlds I’ve ever encountered, and both the prose and characters are brilliant. Seriously, go read it. This series deserves way more attention.
Four Roads Cross is a direct sequel to Three Parts Dead and returns to Alt Coulumb and Tara Abernathy. Unlike the other books of the series, it’s not really one you can read as a stand alone. You need to at least have read Three Parts Dead, although I’d suggest reading Last First Snow and Two Serpents Rise as well. This review will contain some unavoidable spoilers for Three Parts Dead.
Four Roads Cross starts soon after the end of Three Parts Dead but mostly takes place a year later, when news of Seril’s revival begins to spread. This creates problems, for Kos’s creditors see Seril as an off the books liability. If creditors lose faith in Kos, the magic based world economy would be severely damaged. So the creditors are plotting a hostile take over, and it’s up to Tara and her allies to stop them and save, Seril, Kos, and Alt Coulumb.
If you’re already familiar with Three Parts Dead and the Craft Sequence, do I really need to keep singing the praises of this series? The amazing world building, awesome female characters, genre mixing… you would already know all about it. Instead I’m going to focus on how Four Roads Cross builds upon Three Parts Dead.
“You’re a master of the universe. Congratulations. I thought I wanted that, too. Turns out I didn’t.”
While I don’t think Tara was necessarily underdeveloped in Three Parts Dead, I got a much better feel for her in this book. She’s gone against every path and expectation for craftswomen, and she’s now working directly for a goddess. She’s also someone with immense courage and perseverance, who’ll never give up and always keep fighting. However, she doesn’t always realize that she doesn’t have to fight on her own. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to admit that you’re not invulnerable. That’s why she has friends.
“Time’s one jewel with many facets. Tara leaned against the desk. 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 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.”
Additionally, I think Gladstone’s prose has been steadily improving over the course of the series. Again, it’s not like Three Parts Dead was badly written, but Four Roads Cross just feels like it’s at a whole other level. Gladstone’s prose becomes beautiful as well as effective, painting a vivid portrait of Alt Coulumb and our central cast.
If this book has one fault, it’s that I think the pacing slows down too much in the second half. There’s some scenes involving a trip to another setting that felt like they dragged somewhat, although on the other hand I could see how they were important for Tara’s characterization and some of the thematic material.
But overall, I just really loved this book. It’s an excellent installment in an excellent series.