Four Roads Cross: Gladstone’s books get deeper but don’t skimp on the fun

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Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone fantasy book reviewsFour Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

I can’t describe how much fun it was to be back with Tara Abernathy in Alt Coulumb in Four Roads Cross, Max Gladstone’s fifth book in the CRAFT SEQUENCE. In Tara’s world, a year has passed since Three Parts Dead, and Tara has been working hard in the city of the god Kos the Ever-burning. Now, a new threat, aimed at the nascent goddess Seril, the Lady of the Skies, emerges, forcing Tara to take even greater risks, and making her friends question nearly everything about their lives in the city.

Seril was believed to have been killed during the God Wars. Among the citizens of Alt Coulumb she is a fearsome myth, a mad god used to scare children, and her own children, the gargoyles, are viewed as monsters. Much of Seril’s essence was reworked into the demi-god named Justice. Justice was a powerfully functional machine that lacked compassion, empathy or mercy. Now that Seril has returned and merged with Justice, law enforcement seems to be changing slightly, but there are other stories, too, of winged creatures of stone who drop from the sky to save innocents who are in danger. The priests of Kos have kept the rebirth of Seril a secret, but that secret is leaking out, and the “shareholders” of Kos’s godly powers (soulstuff, measured in units of souls) are worried, and are looking to cash out their spiritual investments.

Tara is a Craftswoman, one of the secular magic workers who functions as a broker and a contract lawyer most of the time. Tara is worried about her own changes though; as a post-God person, she is disturbed when Seril — who talks to her regularly — calls her a priestess. When the shareholders send a powerful and experienced Craftswoman, Madeline Ramp, against Tara, Tara has not only her own insecurities but dark places in her past yanked forward into her memory by Ramp’s aide, Daphne, a former schoolmate of Tara’s.


Tara’s story is largely, though far from entirely, “lawyeresque.” It’s the “legal thriller” portion of the book. Cat, who is an agent of Justice, and her friend Raz the vampire, see changes happening in the streets of the city, and when a boat comes into port filled with zombified victims and a questionable manifest, they are rightly suspicious. Abelard, the loyal believer in Kos, struggles with his new role, and must play an important part in the changes happening in the city. He isn’t sure he is up for the task.

The new characters caught my interest and added a new layer of suspense to this story, because the fate of Seril and Kos, and the city, will affect them, and I deeply cared what happened. Gavriel Jones is a journalist who, somewhat like Tara, has to confront the aspects of faith. Matt is an egg dealer in the town market, and the Rafferty girls, particularly Ellen and Claire, are daughters of a vegetable dealer. The girls have had contact with the gargoyles and Seril; they are believers. This throws their already-angry father into a deeper rage. Hasim and Umar, both refugees to the city, play a crucial role in the final sequences.

The story is complex, twisty and still fast moving. Gladstone easily creates a world filled with various, competing interests. Along the way he still drops in plenty of humor and whimsy. Artifacts from the Old World (um, that would be us) crop up. For instance, when she is at home, the vicious, cold and formidable Craftswoman Ramp wears bunny slippers. If the story slowed down at all for me, it was when Raz and Cat hashed and rehashed their relationship. I could have done with a little less of that personally, even though it builds up to Cat’s decision, and action, at the end of this book.

I was personally thrilled when Tara Abernathy finally meets Caleb Altemoc, the main character from Two Serpents Rise. I was disappointed that their story connection ended so quickly. I want to be clear; it isn’t a flaw in the story. What happens is exactly what needs to happen. I was disappointed the way I would be if two good friends of mine stopped by for a visit but couldn’t stay very long. That’s an odd reaction, because I wouldn’t say Altemoc and Tara are friends themselves, exactly, but it’s a measure of how deeply I engage with Gladstone’s characters.

And some of those characters broke my heart, as they were meant to.

One side comment; how nice to see cover art that depicts Tara Abernathy as she might actually look!

It’s a CRAFT book, so of course along the way we get red-eye flights out of the local airport — on the back of a dragon. We get golems and zombies, student loans, Deathless Kings who drink pink cocktails with umbrellas in them, and magical skulls inscribed with silvery glyphs. We get stories about relationships, and questions about faith and spirituality. And by the end of Four Roads Cross, we are deeper into the Craft world. We see the issues, we see at least two of the sides. The one thing I can’t see is what’s coming next, but I know it’s going to be big. And good.

Published on July 26, 2016. From Max Gladstone, the new novel in the series praised by NPR as “sharp, original, and passionate.” In Four Roads Cross, 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.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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  1. I love the covers of this series. The third book’s cover, especially, is stunning. Can’t wait to catch up with these.

  2. Kevin Wei /

    You sold me at “zombified victims!” Read the first three and was a fan, can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

  3. Would you consider this a “borrow before you buy” series, Marion, or somewhere in the neighborhood of “shut up and take my money”?

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