Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence)
by Max Gladstone
Cover Artist: Chris McGrath
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765379429
Date: 26 July 2016 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Four Roads Cross is the fifth book in Max Gladstone's superb Craft Sequence of fantasy novels. Until now, all the previous books in the series have been loosely connected. A few characters from one book appear in others, but there have not been any direct sequels. The books are being published out of order, with the title indicating the book's chronological position. So Last First Snow was the fourth book published, but the earliest chronologically. However, Four Roads Cross breaks the pattern as it is a direct sequel to the first (published) book, Three Parts Dead, beginning just minutes after the first book ended (although quickly jumping a year later) and mostly deals with consequences emerging from the events in that novel. In other words, read Three Parts Dead first.
In the Craft Sequence lawyers are necromancers able to bind people, the dead, and even gods through contracts. The gods of most cities have been defeated by powerful craftsmen in the God Wars. The remainder have their powers bound through contracts to support other groups and gods, just like electric companies in our world have agreements to send electricity to other companies if they have an unusual shortage. The Craft Sequence world has strong Renaissance elements, but is surprisingly modern in other ways. Characters worry about paying off their student loans and dragons substitute for airplanes. The city of Alt Coulumb has no newspapers, but journalists called Criers sing the news.
Four Roads Cross opens with a final confrontation between Tara, a Craftswoman now working for the Church of Kos, and her old professor who sows some doubts in Tara about her new position. Afterwards, she starts to write a list "In Case the Survival of the Moon Goddess Seril or the Presence of Her Gargoyles in Alt Coulumb Should Become Public Knowledge Before She Regains Sufficient Power to Defend Herself". But the only thing she can write is "We are probably screwed". The book then jumps a year later as this exact scenario begins to unfold.
The gargoyles, who had become vigilantes saving people who pray to them, rescue a Crier who begins publicizing the return of the Stone Men. Tara warns supporters of both Kos and Seril that this revelation could lead to a credit crisis as firms holding church contracts could claim Kos' ties to Seril are undisclosed risks reducing the value of their contracts with him. If the creditors lose confidence in Kos' value, they will try to kill him and build a new entity with his power but no free will. Later in the book, an opposing Craft firm tries to make exactly this case, and brings along Tara's old Craft School roommate--whose breakdown was the impetus for Tara's challenging her old professor's mind control--for her expert knowledge of Tara's likely behavior.
Meanwhile Cat, who works as a Blacksuit (guard) for Justice (originally created by Craftsmen from the remnants of Seril when the goddess was thought dead and now part of her personality), and Raz the vampire work to rescue people from a smuggling ship. Cat is struggling to deal with changes in the Blacksuits now that Seril has subsumed Justice.
Abelard, a priest of Kos, has his own doubts since many in the Church see him as saint with a special relationship to Kos (due to actions in the first book) and even his clerical superiors want him to act as a direct channel to Kos.
There are also a few new characters as children of an abusive tradesman father call on the gargoyles for protection. They provide a common man viewpoint on the events of the novel that is too often absent in fantasy. (Best of all, none of the children become a magical chosen one.)
Unfortunately, compared to the first book, Tara has been weakened as a character by becoming a more conventional heroic type. In the first book, Tara, like all Craftsmen, was very pragmatic, believing the ends justified the means, and thought nothing of kidnapping a witness or using mind control. Now, she won't even prevent a Crier from telling the truth about the gargoyles. However, her relationship with Abelard is developing, rather charmingly, into the first stages of romance.
I would not be surprised if Gladstone wrote (or at least outlined) some of Four Roads Cross right after finishing writing Three Parts Dead. In some ways it is a traditional sequel, trying a bit too hard to bring back even minor characters from the first book, and some of the writing seems less polished than in Gladstone's more recent books. Unlike the earlier books in this series it does not stand alone and should be only be read after Three Parts Dead. It's not the best book in the series, weakened a bit by being too conventional a sequel and trying to turn Tara into a more conventional character. But it is still very, very good and recommended to anyone who enjoyed Three Parts Dead and wants to see what happens next.