What Order Should You Read The Craft Sequence In?

Max Gladstone’s fantasy series the Craft Sequence was written and published out of order (scandal!) with Book 3 coming first, followed by Book 2, then Book 5, and so on. Although Gladstone’s books converge into a fantasy series, every book is itself a standalone story taking place in the same world, and a reader can start the series with any book and still get a full experience.

With the first five volumes of the Craft Sequence now out on book shelves, readers can choose their own chronological or anti-chronological voyage through the series. So what order should a reader approach the Craft Sequence in?

Note: This article is spoiler-free, but the comments section probably isn’t. Proceed with care!

The July 26, 2016 publication of Four Roads Cross created an unbroken five-book run through the Craft Sequence, allowing readers to start with Book 1 and continue through to Book 5, following the series’ internal timeline. That chronological order is:

But if you do that, do you lose something unique to the experience of reading them in the following publication order?

  • Book 3: Three Parts Dead
  • Book 2: Two Serpents Rise
  • Book 5: Full Fathom Five
  • Book 1: Last First Snow
  • Book 4: Four Roads Cross

A couple months back I got the opportunity to read Gladstone’s series for the first time in chronological order, something that wasn’t possible for readers until this year. Does the series hold up even though it was written “out of order”? Does reading it in chronological order eschew author Max Gladstone’s intent? Here are the pros and cons that I discovered while reading the Craft Sequence with this approach.

 

Pro for Chronological Order: The series starts with one of its strongest books.

Last First Snow is a lean and mean book, introducing Gladstone’s vast world and its concepts through the intimate lens of a former warrior priest who is just trying to create a safe environment for his family. The story is tense, growing step by step from an urban planning meeting (really!) into a reckoning between urban development, gentrification, and the tricky social politics of “Occupy Wall Street”-style movements. There are no good guys or bad guys here, and no simple answers, and yet still the story manages to logically culminate in one of the most epic scenes in the entire series.

(The events in this book also subtly influence characters and events later on in the series, since it takes place first in terms of the series’ internal chronology. This helps give some weight to events in Two Serpents Rise and Four Roads Cross.)

Last First Snow was the fourth book written in the series, so Gladstone’s writing style is sharp, refined, and at its height. It’s difficult not to get sucked into the series after reading LFS. Although, if you don’t find yourself enjoying LFS, then you can walk away satisfied that you read through one of the best books in the series and therefore gave it a proper chance to wow you.

 

Con for Chronological Order: The writing can be uneven.

Last First Snow features some of the most experienced writing in the series, but the next chronological book Two Serpents Rise features Gladstone still figuring out the rhythm of his series. As such, TSR can feel rushed and exploratory at times, and overall feels like a thinner story than the potboiler epic that Last First Snow becomes. Moving on from TSR to Three Parts Dead also feels somewhat jarring, as Three Parts Dead was the first book written and thus packs in a lot of initial worldbuilding. When read in chronological order, Three Parts Dead changes from being an introduction to the series to being a widening of the series’ scope. It’s an extremely interesting shift to experience, but it is a shift nonetheless.

Interestingly, although Three Parts Dead was the first book written for the series, and Four Roads Cross the latest book written for the series, the two of them mesh together seamlessly.

 

Pro for Chronological Order: The villainous joy of The Red King.

So there’s this guy who shows up in Last First Snow and he’s known as The Red King and he’s extremely powerful and very decision-oriented and also he’s a red skeleton so he’s already dead and really hard to kill as a result. So if one of his decisions ruins your life than that really sucks for you because how are you going to stop it?

The Red King essentially personifies the corporations and bureaucracies that make us feel powerless in our own lives. These faceless organizations that decide what health care you should receive, or how much data you should be allowed to purchase, or how much your rent is going up this year. There is no appeal to the faceless things that make your life harder for their own benefit, and this is essentially how The Red King (who is literally faceless) functions in the Craft Sequence.

However villainous he seems, The Red King is genuinely trying to engineer a greater good for the city he runs and the humanity at large that he sees himself as serving. He’s just as plugged into the day-to-day details of running a city as he is summoning eldritch horrors from beyond the stars and eating their hearts. This makes him a lot of fun to watch in action and starting the Craft Sequence in chronological order puts his best work right at the forefront of your reading experience.

 

Con for Chronological Order: Big series mysteries get revealed quickly and other big reveals land differently.

Two Serpents Rise hints at two big events that happened in the past. For those reading along with the publication order, those events become reveals that occur later on in the series. For those reading in chronological order, those events occur immediately, reducing the later mysteries in Two Serpents Rise to mere references. The same reversal occurs between Four Roads Cross and Full Fathom Five.

Whether this ruins the story is a preference left to the reader’s individual taste. Personally, I enjoyed knowing about the events before they were hinted at, as knowing the precise details of these events made the character’s subsequent actions much more deeply motivated. In fact, a certain character’s actions in Full Fathom Five may actually seem a bit too puzzling if you don’t know what happens in Four Roads Cross.

Reading in chronological order also has a different effect on how much weight the characters later in the series have. I found Tara’s introduction in Three Parts Dead to be greatly assisted by the two books that come before her, as I knew the FULL power of a world she was brashly dismissing, thus making her journey into maturity more potent.

A chronological readthrough changes Elayne Kevarian’s character, as well, making her less enigmatic yet somehow even more appealing. Which reminds me…

 

Pro for Chronological Order: Lots and lots and lots of Elayne Kevarian.

Elayne is the absolute best and starting the series chronologically immediately puts you deep within one the greatest conflicts of her life. (You’d have to wait four books for it, otherwise. Noooo!)

 

Con for Chronological Order: The basic details of the world aren’t explained until halfway through.

Last First Snow does a good job explaining the intricacies of the Craft’s magic system, and you get a lot of information about the city of Dresediel Lex, but it’s not until Three Parts Dead that you really understand the FULL scope of the Craft, the gods, the cities, and the world they turn upon. This can give the reader an incomplete impression of what’s at stake in Last First Snow and Two Serpents Rise, and it could frustrate readers who are annoyed by hoping that a fantasy series will explain something later on. (A common frustration, to be sure.) Like the big mysteries present in the series, this aspect is ultimately down to a reader’s individual preference.

 

Pro for Chronological Order: If you didn’t know the series was published out of order, you wouldn’t be able to tell just from reading it.

This is what stunned me the most in regards to reading the Craft Sequence in chronological order: It fits together ridiculously smoothly even with the changes in rhythm that occur between Last First Snow, Two Serpents Rise, and Three Parts Dead. In fact, if the rhythm of the series’ prose and structure didn’t change, you’d have a hard time telling that the books were written out of order. That’s some slick story structuring right there.

It gets even better. Regardless of whether you read the series in chronological or publication order, Four Roads Cross still packs a giant culminating punch, so you’re guaranteed a proper epic pay-off.

 

In the end, whether to read the Craft Sequence in chronological or publication order is up to the reader. The only all encompassing advice I would suggest is: Don’t start with Four Roads Cross. It’s too bad-ass.

Chris Lough writes about fantasy and superheroes for Tor.com and would make a really media-focused Craftsman.

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