The Ruin of Angels – Max Gladstone

4.5 Stars

Welcome to this sixth, and final, part 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.

The Ruin of Angels is book six in The Craft Sequence if you read the books in publication order, and the sixth book chronologically. We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.


Cover from Goodreads


Before we jump into the review and discussion, here’s the publisher’s synopsis:

The God Wars destroyed the city of Alikand. Now, a century and a half and a great many construction contracts later, Agdel Lex rises in its place. Dead deities litter the surrounding desert, streets shift when people aren’t looking, a squidlike tower dominates the skyline, and the foreign Iskari Rectification Authority keeps strict order in this once-independent city―while treasure seekers, criminals, combat librarians, nightmare artists, angels, demons, dispossessed knights, grad students, and other fools gather in its ever-changing alleys, hungry for the next big score.

Priestess/investment banker Kai Pohala (last seen in Full Fathom Five) hits town to corner Agdel Lex’s burgeoning nightmare startup scene, and to visit her estranged sister Ley. But Kai finds Ley desperate at the center of a shadowy, and rapidly unravelling, business deal. When Ley ends up on the run, wanted for a crime she most definitely committed, Kai races to track her sister down before the Authority finds her first. But Ley has her own plans, involving her ex-girlfriend, a daring heist into the god-haunted desert, and, perhaps, freedom for an occupied city. Because Alikand might not be completely dead―and some people want to finish the job.

Before my reread of the series, I’d claimed that The Ruin of Angels was my favorite of the series, but Four Roads Cross has claimed that title, now that I’ve reread the whole series, putting The Ruin of Angels in second place.

The Ruin of Angels is a very different book from the first five Craft books. Max Gladstone has described it as the first of the second phase of the series, which hopefully means more books to come, though none have been announced.

It’s a very personal book, and ultimately a book about the nature of cities, which can feel like two separate things, until we circle back to the idea that a city is different to different people. A city can mean and be different things to different communities, and there is no one face a city wears. There is no one vision of a city, and to impose a singular vision of a city on all of its citizens is to deny those residents citizenship.

It’s also a fast-paced, nail-biting heist. The ultimate prize is knowledge, libraries and freedom, stolen right out from under the reality of one city, and one authority’s noses. The heist element is fun and frustrating at turns.

It’s also a story about relationships and how those who love us the most can also hurt us the deepest and that good intentions don’t always matter when the result is pain.

Fair warning, our discussion beyond this point is *FULL* of spoilers.

Alex: Jenni and Marzie, I am dying to hear your first impressions of The Ruin of Angels.

Jenni: I admit, I spent a lot of the book feeling CONFUSED.

Alex: Confused about?

Marzie: Confused?

Jenni: Well, part of it was my own fault, because I read the first 50% of the book quite a while before I managed to finish it. But everybody was incredibly, incredibly … opaque to me. Their motivations, their goals, their plans. I felt like I was watching a bunch of people that I didn’t understand doing things for reasons I didn’t get (or that they had lied about).

Marzie: I spent most of the book hating on Ley and wondering how she could be Kai’s sister. It’s true that the motivations of some of the characters like Ley and Gal are not clear. I figured Zeddig and Raymet are motivated by love a lot of the time, and I already know and trust Kai, Issa and Tara.

Alex: Zeddig and Raymet were motivated by preservation of history, as much as love. Ley never made sense to me, but then, I am not sure she was supposed to. Most of the time we were seeing her through the lens of people she used to know well, but she was a trapped animal, lashing out and doing everything she could to get out of the situation she found herself in.

Jenni: Well, guys, I mean, I wasn’t confused by the end of the book! It got tied together and everybody stopped lying and hiding, to themselves and others. But you asked what my sort of overall impression of the book was, and a lot of the book was irritatingly confusing to me.

Marzie: I agree some of the characters are pretty opaque. And I’m not agreeing that we only see Ley through the paradigm of Kai, Zeddig and Alethea Vane. I could see enough of her myself and Ley simply has no excuse for her machinations and subterfuge. She is deliberately cryptic and scheming and is that way to the very end, I think. I just didn’t like her and I feel sorry for the anxiety that she caused Kai and everyone that tried to help her. I wanted to break her other leg, too, and say just quit it and sit home.

Alex: Ley is really not my favorite. At all.

Jenni: A lot of people being overly cryptic about what they were doing and why made the plot frustrating. People who actually had the same goals working against each other. People accidentally helping their real enemies. And there’s nothing that makes my teeth itch more than a bunch of people running around saying “Trust me.”

Marzie: Her refusal to explain the blade, even to Zeddig was just annoying as hell. I have to say that as a character I felt that she made some aspects of the plot almost contrived. I feel like she distorted the arc of the story at times.

Alex: As I said before, I think she was behaving like a trapped animal. Trying to protect herself and lashing out, rather than reasonably accepting help, the way a trapped bear might.

Jenni: She had tremendously developed emotional defenses. Max did a beautiful job illustrating both her and Zeddig’s means of protecting themselves emotionally from those around them when describing how they came to be involved. Ley being overly guarded in that respect always made sense to me.

Marzie: That is a forté in this book, I agree. But still not feeling the trapped animal analogy. Ley is too bright to have that limitation and had so many allies.

Alex: Okay, we’ve beaten up on Ley, let’s talk about who we liked in the book, or at least who else we hated (Bescond, Oh My Gourd).

Jenni: Bescond was a nasty piece of work. Hated her far more than Ley.

Marzie: Bescond was truly awful. I think she was the only character I really despised.

Alex: GOODNESS I hated her. In my head I kept hearing Shuri (from Black Panther) yell “Colonizer” at her every time she started in on her squiddy evangelism.

Jenni: Was anyone else completely revolted by the squid thing??

Marzie: The squid thing is very grotesque. And the Wreckers. UGH! So horrible. I thought the Penitents were scary but these squidy things are equally horrifying.

Alex: Oh yes. The squids. I feel the need to go eat some calamari.

Marzie: LOL, no thank you, after reading this one! Not even fried! Ugh! But for most of the rest of the characters, I really enjoyed them.

Jenni: Gal frustrated me for some personal reasons, but was an interesting character.

Marzie: I enjoyed Gal, and the whole awkward dynamic with Raymet.

Alex: I never did understand how she justified working with Zeddig and Raymet for delving and breaking the law.

Marzie: I think Gal was simply looking for her death and thought it was a sure way to finally catch it. It was the dirtiest most dangerous work she could find.

Alex: I see that, but the logic of it doesn’t quite work for me. It wouldn’t be an HONORABLE death.

Marzie: You mean a knight doing something so illegal? But I think she just wanted to die without suicide from what she said. She was already in dishonor so I don’t think there was more in her mind.

Jenni: Another thing that I just had a hard time wrapping my mind around was a kind of important plot point – the fact that there seemed to be different layers of reality existing on top of each other. I wanted to know more about what caused that, perpetuated it, and why it came to an end. Because I couldn’t adequately explain to myself how it worked, my brain kept tripping on it.

Alex: I think it was basically an extended metaphor about cities being different realities for the different communities within it, and one group trying to impose its own vision over the other two, effectively killing the realities of other communities, which is horrible.

Marzie: Actually to me it was like the actual historical situation of building on a ruin. You can bury the history beneath you. It’s literally a story as old as time. Look at Jerusalem and the First and Second Temples, and Al-Aqsa. You have two colliding cultures and religions, and a kind of battle for the survival of culture and history there. Agdel Lex/Alikand are definitely the most complex of Max’s city-states. This wasn’t a story you could step into before the other books.

Jenni: Well, metaphors are fine, but their mundane part has to make sense, too! The actual physics, if you will, of delving, and the Wastes, and what all was going on with all that. I got the metaphorical part fine, just kept getting hung up on details, lol.

Alex: “Magic” 😛 A lot of the magic in this universe doesn’t make a ton of sense when you pick at the edges. And THIS magic got WEIRD.

Marzie: I think that’s in any magical world, though. It’s rare to have a world that stands up to major scrutiny.

Jenni: Magic as theological currency has held together pretty well, but this got a lot more mystical.

Marzie: I find it fascinating that Tara is now less “Craftswoman Standard Issue,” and that she does pray sometimes, and that she seems to have a greater sense of the numinous.

Jenni: She is essentially a priestess of Seril, and seems to be coming to terms with it.

Alex: Seril so conveniently appears at the last minute to give her a way home.

Jenni: Well, Tara, as a reluctant priestess, isn’t very likely to involve her as her go-to move, I guess. It’s just not the first thing she thinks of.

Marzie: I wonder about gods and goddesses linking to one another. Here we had the Blue Lady and Seril. It’s interesting to wonder if there is some sort of communication between these goddesses now.

Jenni: I would expect there always was.

Head over to Marzie’s Reads for part two of our discussion and a giveaway of a kindle version of The Ruin of Angels.

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