Welcome to part five of #TheCraftBuddies buddy read of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni.
Four Roads Cross is book five in The Craft Sequence if you read the books in publication order, and the fourth book chronologically. We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.
Before we jump into the review and discussion, here’s the publisher’s synopsis:
The great city of Alt Coulumb is in crisis. The moon goddess Seril, long thought dead, is back—and the people of Alt Coulumb aren’t happy. Protests rock the city, and Kos Everburning’s creditors attempt a hostile takeover of the fire god’s church. Tara Abernathy, the god’s in-house Craftswoman, must defend the church against the world’s fiercest necromantic firm—and against her old classmate, a rising star in the Craftwork world.
As if that weren’t enough, Cat and Raz, supporting characters from Three Parts Dead, are back too, fighting monster pirates; skeleton kings drink frozen cocktails, defying several principles of anatomy; jails, hospitals, and temples are broken into and out of; choirs of flame sing over Alt Coulumb; demons pose significant problems; a farmers’ market proves more important to world affairs than seems likely; doctors of theology strike back; Monk-Technician Abelard performs several miracles; The Rats! play Walsh’s Place; and dragons give almost-helpful counsel.
Four Roads Cross is the final book in what I think of as Act I of The Craft Sequence. It wraps up many of the overarching storylines that the other four books have brought up and is the most complex narratively of the first five books in the series. There’s a lot going on in this one. There’s a lot of Craftwork, questioning and committing of faith, and many relationships in flux. It’s a busy book, but that business makes Four Roads Cross one of the easiest of the series to read. At this point in the series, readers are familiar enough with the world that Gladstone doesn’t have to slow down to explain how things work the way he does in books earlier in the series.
Four Roads Cross is probably my second favorite book in the series, sliding in right after Ruin of Angels/ Come back next month for my review and our discussion of that one!
Head over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion and a giveaway of a kindle version of Four Roads Cross. Then be sure to come back and read part two below! Join us next month for our reviews and discussion of the sixth book in The Craft Sequence, Ruin of Angels!
Fair warning, our discussion beyond this point is *FULL* of spoilers.
Alex: Does anyone else ship Shale and Tara? I ship them SO HARD.
Marzie: It is obvious there is something between them.
Alex: I just kept chanting to myself “JUST KISS JUST KISS JUST KISS!”
Marzie: Part of me wants them to work out but part of my evil lizardy mind hissing TRAUMA BOND NOT REAL. Shale’s choices are difficult to unravel. He serves Seril so faithfully. Did he go with Tara to find Caleb because of her or because of Tara or because of both of them?
Jenni: I dunno, I’m not sure I’d say it was a trauma bond. Shale really didn’t like her, avoided her for a YEAR after the events in the first book.
Alex: And Tara did make efforts to give Shale lots of space. She acknowledged that in the book a few times.
Marzie: Shale was traumatized by what she did, but is emotionally enmeshed with her. Voilà.
Alex: I still ship them super hard.
Marzie: Anyway, I want them to work out somehow, as Cat and Raz did.
Alex: Of the two relationships, I find Cat and Raz’s relationship to be more suspect. He says no a lot and she cajoles him into yes. She crosses clear boundaries he’s put up.
Marzie: I think that Raz cares about her but suspects her motives because of her addiction issues, and I think he is also not used to being able to relate to anyone in a true relationship sense anymore.
Jenni: Cat’s judgment is compromised because of her addiction, and I’m not sure how that affects her perception of how she feels about Raz. I don’t see how she could separate Raz the person from Raz the potential delivery mechanism.
Marzie: Yes, I agree. Really, she cannot.
Alex: Which is why I have an issue with that relationship. Of the two relationships, Tara doesn’t cross Shale’s boundaries (beyond the whole stealing his face thing.) She actively gives him space.
Marzie: Yes, Tara has much more respectful of Shale’s feelings since she returned his face, but also her original motivations in her interactions with Shale were different, although she too wishes to regain his trust. Tara stole his face to save him.
Jenni: It’s not just Cat’s addiction issues, too. Addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and she has serious fractures in her personality that say to me that she needs to work more on herself before she can engage in a healthy relationship with someone else.
Marzie: Well, she basically states she’s gone from being an addict to having “Seril fix her.” I mean, seriously, to anyone who knows anything about addiction and recovery, that is taking zero ownership of her recovery. I guess it’s like those people that say Jesus saved them from addiction, etc.
Alex: Yeah, I feel for Cat and want her and Raz to be happy, but that is not a relationship with healthy roots and I find myself wishing that they’d continued to go slow.
Jenni: Switching gears completely – how about St. Abelard??
Alex: I LOVED that. Abelard is so humble and just wants to serve his God. I loved that he also went and got totally trashed at his parents’ house with Cat.
Marzie: Abelard has his faith in Kos but he also has such faith in Tara.
Jenni: I thought it was interesting that he had his own sort of crisis of faith concerning his relationship with Kos. And that it took him coming into his own to be able to salvage the larger situation for Kos’s church.
Marzie: Abelard is one of the most open thinkers of the series, for me.
Alex: I think that’s one of the things that makes Abelard such a refreshing character. Despite – no because of – his crisis of faith and ultimate doubling down on faith, his God chose to trust him over his own Cardinals. And that quip about Kos wanting some “ahem…Private time” slayed me.
Marzie: Abelard’s motives seem much purer than the Cardinals’. But he has less to lose, too.
Jenni: The Cardinals actually made me happy in this book. They weren’t too proud/corrupt/hidebound to be able to accept the huge shifts in their worldview and power structure. They listened to a stripling when they could have easily ignored him or shouted him down, even disciplined him. Instead, they chose to be wise enough to recognize that they were not up to the task and to listen to some stuff that must have seemed terribly, terribly radical to them.
Alex: Yes, the support Abelard received was really satisfying. Too often we hear of the opposite happening in our own world, in any context. Business, religion, etc.
Marzie: Most of all, what I feel was their lack of pettiness over the fact that Abelard is a direct conduit to Kos. I think in plenty of religious situations that is a rare thing.
Jenni: Exactly! They could have resented him, undermined him, attempted to supplant him…
Marzie: Likewise, I think Tara’s becoming a conduit to Seril, which is rather intriguing from the Craftsperson standpoint.
Jenni: Tara the Priestess, whether she means to be or not. And she basically acknowledged it at the end, accepted Seril.
Alex: That kind of bothers me actually. Seril didn’t really let Tara come to her. She forced her way in. Ultimately Tara did have to give in, but it was under duress. And I am not really a fan of religion being forced on people.
Jenni: Most people require some duress to change their fundamental worldview, but I get what you’re saying. But what Seril did with Tara didn’t feel like a forced conversion to me. They felt like strong-willed (if unequal) partners that have been forced together by circumstance and wear each other down a bit.
Marzie: I’m not sure that I feel it is a religious bond between Seril and Tara. But I agree that there was a lack of choice, in several instances. Although Seril offered a carrot, literally, to Tara to draw her into the partnership.
Alex: “Partnership” is what they call it at the end, but it still really bugged me. Tara put up boundaries and said no, and Seril just kind of said: “I do what I want.” There’s a lot of boundary crossing in this series about the boundaries of law/magic/Craftwork.
Marzie: Yes with Cat and Raz and to some extent with Tara and Seril but I felt more like Seril was saying “this is the only way I know how to be, take it or leave it” and I’ll be here waiting because you’ll have to take it sooner or later if you do the moral thing and help me survive. Also, I think Tara has a choice as to whether or not to engage in dialogues with these gods, whether Seril or Keeper.
Alex: It still feels like a trap. It feels wrong.
Jenni: Seril is definitely a flawed personality. All the Gods in this series are very human in their behaviors.
Marzie: Her fragment of Justice implies something about her character… Her harshness. I don’t mind Kos, though.
Alex: Switching gears a little, what did you think of the Rafferty girls’ thread?
Jenni: That was painful.
Marzie: I found it kind of difficult, even in its integration into the overarching story was difficult to me. I was actually wondering what Amal worked on in this book and whether some of it was that thread of the story.
Alex: It did kind of fit oddly in with the rest of the story, but I kind of liked it. All three girls reacted very differently to their father’s behavior – it felt raw and true.
Marzie: Yes, and as someone who dealt with dependency court for over a decade, that is a super accurate view- each child having their unique paradigm about their parent’s abuses. I found the Daphne storyline so crushing. It made me feel like Craftwork can indeed be evil as Shale says.
Alex: UGH, yes. As soon as she appeared on the page, I was convinced it was for no good reason. And I was crushed to be right.
Jenni: I think Craftwork is like any other tool. It in itself isn’t good or evil. The good or evil resides in the people who wield it.
Marzie: But it seems like Craftwork erodes a person in many respects. It’s why I hope Elayne doesn’t become Deathless. Ramp wasn’t even deathless, but she was already just as bad as Denovo.
Alex: I agree with that, Jenni, but you also have to admit that Craftwork’s own symbols and tools of the trade are pretty gruesome and don’t do it any favors. The book literally begins with Tara carving up a body. They use demons and blood and poisons. Even if Craft itself isn’t malevolent, it sure has an image problem.
Jenni: Is it the Craft itself, or the awesome power it gives its practitioners, I wonder, that erodes them?
Marzie: You know what they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think the darkness of what Craftwork requires helps the erosion of empathy, and to some extent morality.
Jenni: In this case also with a physical manifestation. Sort of Dorian Gray in reverse?
Marzie: Perhaps. It definitely sucks the life out of you. So are we set for the final book in the series thus far, Ruin of Angels?
Alex: I can’t wait for you to read it. I can’t say how much I like it enough.
Jenni: What I’ve read so far definitely feels a bit different.
Marzie: I’m looking forward to starting it after June 5th. Although a sad part of me ties the period of its release to my kitty being so sick, which I just need to get past. I had looked forward to it coming out so much.
Jenni: It was your excitement about its release which first caught my attention and encouraged me to pick up this series!
Alex: I will forever associate it with my birthday.
Marzie: That was the most coveted ARC I think I’ve ever seen you desire, Alex!
Alex: I about died when I opened it. I’m still internally gushing about it.
Marzie: So Onward! But first, any final thoughts about Four Roads Cross?
Jenni: For all her moral dubiousness, I enjoyed the rehabilitation of Seril immensely, and the clever Craft legalistic maneuverings always make for fascinating twists and turns. Abelard’s increased role and prominence was a definite bonus, and his character development was a treat to read.
Alex: Yes, I enjoyed Seril, and liking her helped this book feel like a lot was on the line. Additionally, I love that Four Roads Cross wrapped everything up. It really could have been the end of the series, because most of what had been introduced in the first four books were tied up nicely, but I am SO grateful that it wasn’t. I just hope we get more after Ruin of Angels.
Marzie: We have to ask him. And Jenni, thanks for joining us again!
Jenni: My pleasure!