At its heart, Max Gladstone’s The Ruin of Angels is a story about the rich variety of relationships between women, their families, and the squids that chase them.
One of the perks of Gladstone’s heart-curling Craft Sequence fantasy series is that you can use any of the books as your starting point. That remains true for Ruin of Angels, the sixth novel in the Sequence (the The is silent?). The novel’s main characters are nevertheless bringing in some emotional and contextual baggage from previous novels that enrich Ruin‘s story considerably.
So if this your starting point for Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, what are some fun things to know before diving into Ruin of Angels?
(Spoilers ahead for Full Fathom Five and Four Roads Cross.)
Fun Thing #1: The world is torn between its Gods and the Craftspeople who reverse engineer them.
Between 100 to 150 years ago, the people of this world worshipped a myriad of very real Gods, from small (this Godling is worshipped only by the people on a distant island, for example) to massive (this God is recognized as representing the Moon, regardless of your cultural origin). The development of the world took a huge leap sideways when Craftspeople discovered that the agreements between Gods, their worshippers, and the forces under Godly control, could be manipulated by necromantic magic known simply as Craft.
Essentially, some dark wizards found the strings that Gods were using to hold up humanity, cut them, seized them, and used them to strangle the Gods themselves to death.
Wielding power like this obliterates the vitality of the planet, as well as the meaning behind space and time. Battles between Craftspeople and Gods have shattered the surface of the planet in a number of different ways. The city of Agdel Lex, where Ruin of Angels takes place, is one of those sites.
Outright war between Craftspeople and Gods has passed into history, with the Craftspeople claiming victory, but the two sides still tug back and forth in a number of other ways. Craftspeople bind Gods into subservient agreements; Gods find ways to slip out of those agreements and reassert control. As a side result of the war, technology and economic leisure have bloomed in the “first world” of this planet, in a manner not unlike the present day.
Fun Thing #2: Kai, the main character, is a very fluid person.
Ruin of Angels is a new story featuring Kai, the main character of Full Fathom Five. Kai originates from the island nation of Kavekana, located in the somewhat-equatorial Skeld Archipelago, which has reinvented itself as a neutral offshore exchange in the world’s Craft-and-Godstuff economy. Kai’s initial job was as a Priest in an organization that created idols; in essence, non-sentient Gods made to order. This involved achieving a state of mental fluidity, as Kai’s position demanded that she power/activate the idols by worshipping them in accordance with their specific demands. A normal day could consist of Kai appeasing a sex-hungry idol, followed by silent and fervent prayer to an idol of chastity, followed with a break for lunch. Kai’s practiced ability to alter her mental state is a powerful hidden ability, and has gotten her out of some highly dramatic situations. Kai can also call upon the assistance of these idols from time to time, having memorized their sacrificial demands, to make herself stronger, quieter, or faster.
At the same time, she is still human. Her sister drives her insane, she doesn’t communicate well with people on a casual basis, and she possesses a stubbornness that has cost her a job, and cost her organization money.
At the beginning of Ruin of Angels, Kai has moved on from being an island-only Priest to being a customer service/outreach rep for Kavekana’s organization. Creating a financial partnership between her org and the God-controlled city of Agdel Lex (and the Iskari Empire that controls it) is what initially brings her to the city.
Fun Thing #3: Kai lost her job as a Priest because she found a new God.
Ironic? (Something like that…) The story of Full Fathom Five takes a lot of twists and turns, resulting in–among many other things–the cohering of a new sentient God that is the embodiment of the prayers and pleas of the nationless and dispossessed all around the world. The Blue Lady, as she is called, came into being on Kavekana and at the end of the novel chooses a street urchin by the name of Izza as her High Priestess. Izza and Kai work together frequently to both obscure the presence of (lest Craftspeople destroy her and Kavekana) and spread the word about The Blue Lady (to ensure that The Blue Lady can grow powerful enough to protect Kavekana).
Although living on Kavekana, Izza is a refugee from the region that contains Agdel Lex and the Godwastes beyond its walls. Izza’s absence and presence plays heavily into the story of Ruin of Angels.
As you may be gathering: Kai, Izza, Kavekana, and the city of Agdel Lex are all negotiating a state of change, trying to find a middle ground between Craft and Gods. This tension is key to the story of Ruin of Angels, and the Craft Sequence as a whole.
The presence of a Craftswoman in the narrative doesn’t lessen this tension.
Fun Thing #4: Nevertheless, Tara Abernathy is awesome.
Kai comes to Agdel Lex to do business. And so does Tara Abernathy, a Craftswoman that works for the city of Alt Coulomb, which is similar to Agdel Lex in that it is a hybrid of a modern Craft-structured city under the protection of a god (the duality of Kos Everlasting and a revived Seril, Goddess of the Moon). Tara is skilled at melding the infrastructure of Craft and Gods, as well as discovering and eliminating contradictions and threats to existing and forthcoming agreements, and is often sent as a vanguard for Kos’ interests elsewhere in the world.
Whether Kai and Tara’s interests converge in Ruin of Angels is…up for debate. Both Kai and Tara are pragmatic, and feel the constant tugging of their morals, but what they encounter is…quite new…and subsequently their similarities may be more of a hindrance than a help in Agdel Lex.
Fun Thing #5: The Godwastes
This should win some kind of terrible award for most messed-up place in fiction. You’ll see when you get there.