REVIEW SUMMARY: Another strong novel in The Craft Sequence, this one showing readers an early part of the timeline, with an interesting look at younger versions of the characters from the previous novels.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In Dresediel Lex, four decades after The God Wars, an attempt at urban redevelopment brings social and personal conflict that threaten to destroy personal lives and city alike.
PROS: An excellent and intriguing look at major Craft Sequence characters; very strong use of theme and story to illuminate conflicts with real resonance to our world; wonderful cover art.
CONS: The impact of novel is slightly diluted by readers of Two Serpents Rise knowing the fate of key characters already; a touch less background building for new readers than Three Parts Dead.
BOTTOM LINE: A strong entry in The Craft Sequence quintet, and a suitable entry point for new readers.
Forty years after the God Wars ended, theocracies across the world were challenged and destroyed by the rise of Craft (i.e. magic). It replaced existing priestly social systems with new ones, made for and by men and women. Not all of the Gods are gone, however, even in the places where the magic users emerged victorious, like Dresediel Lex. The King in Red may have won the war and is the ruler of the city, but the ghosts and fragments of the defeated gods still have a measure of worship, as attenuated as it might be, in this more enlightened age. When that urban renewal project brings social unrest, the defeated gods may see in their former worshippers a chance to stir old ashes and rekindle old glory.
In short, urban renewal is hell. This is doubly true in Dresediel Lex, the setting for Max Gladstone’s latest novel Last First Snow. This is the fourth book in The Craft Sequence quintet, yet it takes place earliest in the timeline — specifically, two decades before the events of Two Serpents Rise.
The Craft Sequence novels are ultimately about people and how they strive for change in their world, but the actual plot and themes of the novel, which revolve around the redevelopment project, are a twisting labyrinth of ideas and concepts. We see the consequences of power, the stirring of old ideas and resistance to new ones, and how class distinctions can lead to disproportionate effects of change. All of these come through clearly in the Gladstone’s writing, which is the best in the series so far. It shows multiple sides and viewpoints of the characters and lets readers judge them by their beliefs and actions.
The most appealing character of the entire sequence is Elayne Kevarian, a Craftswoman hired by The King in Red. Last First Snow shows a significantly younger Elayne than readers saw in previous novels. It provides crucial character development that explains the Elayne seen in the latter novels. It’s a crucial part of her biography and story.
This new outing also lets us see Caleb as a child, but more importantly, focuses on his father, Temoc, as a primary point of view. Readers of Two Serpents Rise (which takes place next in the timeline) might be rather surprised at Temoc’s nature at the beginning of this novel. There’s a definite tension behind wondering exactly how he transforms from his role in Last First Snow to the one depicted in Two Serpents Rise.
Last First Snow also provides a somewhat more intimate view of The King in Red than previously seen. In Two Serpents Rise, he’s Caleb’s boss, to be feared and dreaded — a force of nature that Caleb must respect with good reason. In Last First Snow, he is much more of a character. He’s still as scary and powerful, the figure who once broke gods and capable of doing it again. Last First Snow gives us some perspective on a figure of legend and power.
If you are new to this series, Last First Snow makes an excellent entry point for new fans of the series; it gives the right amount of background and character development. First-time readers might be a bit fuzzier about some of the details surrounding Craft, but in nearly every other way, it’s a better novel. And once again, the cover art by Chris McGrath is top notch. All four of the covers really work to illuminate what The Craft Sequence and its characters are all about. Good cover art illuminates character and setting, and the cover for this novel does that in spades. There are lots of reasons for fantasy readers to get hooked on the work of Max Gladstone. This is one of the better ones.