There are a great number of scary things in this world, and for a brief time, one of them was the idea we would never again get to play around in Max Gladstone’s methodically magical Craft Sequence universe, where necromancy and financial regulation go hand in hand.
Thankfully, that’s a reality we won’t have to confront any time soon: after a switch to Tor.com Publishing, the Craftverse has returned with its sixth installment, Ruin of Angels, which, per the author, marks a new narrative cycle and a perfect jumping-on point for new readers (who may have heard about the series via its recent, historic Hugo nomination).
Though shorn of the earlier books’ numeric titles, Ruin of Angels does retain several favorite characters and the overall densely hypnotic sensibility of its narrative predecessors. It also extends the map, plunging us into the previously discussed-but-never-seen realm of Iskar and the broken city of Agdel Lex.
Joining us on this journey are Kai Pohala and Izza (who appeared in Full Fathom Five), as well as ever-reliable craftswoman Tara Abernathy (Three Parts Dead, Four Roads Cross). Their familiar faces dot a strange landscape, where gods are present in ways they aren’t in Tara’s Alt Coulumb or Kai’s Kavekana.
Agdel Lex can be seen either as a prism or a prison. The new Iskari city sits atop the wreckage of Alikand, destroyed in the same God Wars that haunt each Craft Sequence novel. It’s a precarious situation: streets shift without notice, tethered to one reality or another by a shared understanding of what they are and what they’re called. Outside the city lie the writhing remains of dead and dying deities. The Iskari remind visitors to stay focused on their passports, on the country to which they were admitted, lest they fall through holes in the façade and into the dead city.
Here, there is a new war between the Iskari Rectification Authority’s mission to solidify Agdel Lex’s nebulous and tenuous foundation, and leagues of “delvers” looking to poke holes in it and find pathways back to the old city.
This is why Kai, the Kavekana priestess, has come, though she’s mostly unaware of that fact. She received a mysterious letter from her sister Ley urging a reunion in Agdel Lex. As a business justification, Kai’s also here to investigate a potential investment opportunity with the city’s nightmare startup scene—and, to be clear, that’s “nightmare” in the literal sense.
Ley becomes entangled in a scheme that puts her in the crosshairs of the Iskari Rectification Authority—the Wreckers, as its agents are more commonly known. On the run, she accumulates a broad array of old acquaintances, most prominently her still-smarting ex-girlfriend. On the hunt for her sister, meanwhile, Kai also amasses an impressive list of acquaintances, including Tara, still every bit the Craftswoman, but bound by inconvenient contractual obligations with the Iskari and their squid god.
What should be apparent by now is a distinct theme among Ruin of Angels’ cast of characters: by and large, they’re women. We’ve said before that the Craft Sequence is a series that elevates diversity among its characters and serves as an important text for fantasy feminism. Once again, that proves true. Meanwhile, Ruin of Angels’ probing focus on the nature of belief (how it maintains Agdel Lex, for example) and class societies (the ruling haves versus the have-nots) add depth to the relationships between the women at the center of the plot.
Kai and Ley have a seesaw of sisterly struggles; each, on some level, feels inadequate to the other. Their inner convictions on this front color their every interaction, and help propel the story and force Ley toward a life on the lam. Ley and Zeddig’s relationship is even more complex: erstwhile lovers, their attraction has always been volatile, and even more so now, given Zeddig’s inability to trust any of her ex’s motives.
Tangential to these dynamics are the remaining members of Zeddig’s squad: Raymet and Gal. Raymet, the whip-smart and disheveled grad student, couldn’t be more opposite of Gal, a sort of angelic Brienne of Tarth. But there is a shared understanding between them that proves exotic and interesting and, possibly, attractive.
Beyond the massive and all-encompassing worldbuilding, beyond the unique and spellbound economics—this is where the Craft Sequence excels most: the complexity of its characters, how they navigate each other and their world, makes each installment feel fresh and fascinating. And as the series embarks on its second narrative life, it’s reassuring some things never change.