Last First Snow (Craft Sequence)
by Max Gladstone
Cover Artist: Chris McGrath
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765379405
Date: 14 July 2015 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Last First Snow is the fourth book in Gladstone's The Craft Sequence, although chronologically it comes first. More directly, it is a prequel to Two Serpents Rise as that book's main character, Caleb, appears here as a child. This book has two protagonists, Caleb's father Temoc, a warrior priest, and Craftswoman Elayne Kevarian who appeared in the first and third books in the series. Unlike books in most fantasy series, Last First Snow does not demand that the reader have read the earlier volumes. The books in the Craft Sequence can be read in any order.
The Craft is a form of magic that is part necromancy and part law. In this world the gods used power from the souls of their worshipers to run the world. But humans learned how to harness this power and, in many places, overthrew the Gods. In this postindustrial world, pieces of one's soul have become currency used to buy food and services. Some humans are trained in manipulating this energy through ritual and through legal contracts. As seen in the other books, these agreements are so strong that they can replace the gods or compel the gods to obey.
Last First Snow takes place 40 years after the end of the God Wars when the King in Red and Elayne Kevarian worked together to kill the gods of the city of Dresediel Lex. The city is still dealing with the repercussions of that victory and now Elayne has returned to broker a property deal. Specifically, she has designed new wards to replace the god-crafted wards around Skittersill, the city's slum district, preventing property from being bought or sold. However, when the people who live in Skittersill protest, the judge in the case demands that the residents be brought into the agreement.
When Elayne goes to meet with the people's leaders, she is shocked to see a priest about to sacrifice a man and uses her magic to interfere. The priest, Temoc, turns out to be an old friend who has changed the sacrament to go through the motions of sacrifice without cutting the victim, but still providing some substance for the gods. Temoc one of the more moderate leaders of the Skittersill residents, wants to approval the deal, but has to try to placate the extremists who do not trust the rich. As the people move closer and closer to open revolt, each character has to decide whether to restart the God Wars or try to forge something new.
This is a very modern fantasy novel. It is not about killing gods or winning a kingdom. It is a fantasy novel about a real estate deal and community organizing. Most of all, it is the story of Temoc's attempt to balance the demands on him as religious and community leader with his role as husband and father. Elayne too has to strike a balance between her responsibilities to her client and what she thinks is morally right. As a result the characters seem very real with concerns and dilemmas not too different from those of people today. Even the minor characters come alive.
Max Gladstone improves as a writer with each new book and Last First Snow is his best yet. The world of the Craft Sequence is richly described and each book builds on the background. Readers who want fantasy that goes beyond wizards and kings, which tackles real world issues in a modern, but still fantastic, setting will be well rewarded by reading these books. Highly recommend. Readers can start with this book, the first chronologically or with Three Parts Dead, the first published.