Can We Do it Better? Writing Last First Snow

Fantasy is the genre of hope.

It’s the genre of the Grail Quest, where the King is the Land, where Lancelot can heal with a touch, where nine walkers just might stand against the nine riders that are evil, where a few farm kids set out from a small town between two rivers to stop the Dark One, where no man can defeat the Nazgul lord so good thing Eowyn’s on our side, where Aerin bests Agsded and Maur to free her city, where Tenar finds her name and Aang can save the world.

But if fantasy is the genre of hope, it’s also the genre of a particular kind of danger. To hope is to commit, and commitment’s scary because we’re never hurt so much as when we care. Saving the world is hard. You lose people along the way.

Tolkien knew this. People who accuse him of wearing rose-colored glasses forget that the best even Frodo can do is fail well—he does succumb to the ring’s temptation on Mount Doom—and return wounded to a broken homeland, to linger on until he goes into the west leaving Sam behind. Hope and pain are right there in the genre’s modern taproot.

Some days, though, it’s hard for me to connect with all that meaning and power. In dark moments I feel myself drowning in kings and empires and satraps and dukes, in crowns, in magical assassins and MacGuffiny mystic objects and epic destinies and window dressing. “I’ve never lived with a king,” I grump, “and basically nobody else has either. Why read about them?” In dark moments I grow furious with medieval pantomime.

Now, this isn’t fair of me. The old stories and old forms endure because they still speak to us. But the more society changes, the greater the risk form will crush meaning. Rudolf Bultmann describes a process of mythological drift: teachers teach in terms they and their audience understand. If you and I both know there are dragon kingdoms beneath the sea, and you want to use the ocean as a metaphor—say, for the nature of the mind—you may mention those dragons. Two thousand years from now, people who know there aren’t any underwater dragon kingdoms will read a record of our conversation and say, “what morons! There aren’t any dragons down there,” and miss the point. But readers can do better: we can break open old tales to find their teaching.

In dark moments, though, I don’t always want to attack a tale of kings to find the hope I need. I want a book that reflects the hopes I know, and the dangers people face as they work to realize those hopes.

I want a fantasy of taking to the streets. I want a fantasy with crowds and leaders, negotiations and council meetings. I want dockworkers, ex-priests, professional necromancers, cops, schoolteachers, chefs, gang leaders, imperfect human beings of all races and genders, with histories and baggage, who become heroes—sometimes only for a moment.

I want a government terrified for the future, struggling to preserve its power and work with a movement despite massive historical differences. I want an undead overlord who’s slain gods with his bare hands explaining to a citizen council why his rezoning proposal will improve the lives of the very people who protest it. I want a consulting sorcerer torn between her loyalties as talks fail and battle lines are drawn. I want a priest choosing to stand by his family, or by the faithful who look to him for help.

I want people who beat against the walls of history, who are bound by choices others made forty years ago, by the outcomes of old wars. I want good intentions to lead to horrible ends, and vice versa. I want a book of human and inhuman beings trying to do better, and of that trial being—maybe—worth the consequences.

And I want a book with magic.

So I wrote one.

I’m a writer. It’s a perk.

Last First Snow Craft Sequence Max Gladstone

Gideon Smith amazon buy linkLast First Snow is a fantasy novel about the challenges of change in a world that looks a lot like our own—a postindustrial world of high magic where wizards wear pinstriped suits, where we can move mountains, soar through the air, and rain fire on the earth, but still struggle with the big questions: what are we doing here? Can we do it better?

All my Craft Sequence books have been about healing the world. That process has to start somewhere. It starts here. If you’ve been following along so far, this is the earliest book chronologically. It features Temoc, and Elayne Kevarian, and the King in Red, and a host of new characters, all making choices that will shape their future.

If you haven’t yet read the Craft Sequence, feel free to jump on here. The hope may be slim at this point—but it’s growing.

Read more about Gladstone’s Craft Sequence and its numbering system. Plus read excerpts from the previous novels—Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, and Full Fathom Five—here on Tor.com!


Max Gladstone writes books about the cutthroat world of international necromancy: wizards in pinstriped suits and gods with shareholders’ committees. You can follow him on Twitter.

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