Max Gladstone has five books, two interactive fiction games, and two ongoing Serial Box serials under his belt. (To say nothing of short stories and other projects.) The Craft series was nominated for the experimental Best Series Hugo Award at the Helsinki Worldcon this year, and I, for one, can’t argue that it didn’t merit its inclusion.
Ruin of Angels is the sixth book in the Craft series, and—unusually for Gladstone, and marking, it seems, a new departure—the sixth in internal chronological order, too. There are many interesting arguments to be had about the themes of the first five Craft novels—the books have a lot to say about late-stage metastatic capitalism, reified and made manifest in Gladstone’s worldbuilding and his decidedly modern take on second-world fantasy. But none of them—not Two Serpents Rise, not Full Fathom Five, nor any of the rest—were as consciously and as explicitly about colonisation and memory as is Ruin of Angels.
The God Wars destroyed the city of Alikand. In the desert Wastes beyond its walls, dead gods, fragmented and mad, hunger—and will destroy anything that crosses without protection. The heart of old Alikand is a hole in the world—but Alikand still exists in memories, and in fragments, where it interpenetrates with the city that has been pinned on top of it.
That city is Agdel Lex, the Iskari city. The Iskari believe in order and operant conditioning, and their Rectification Authority prevents—or tries to prevent—incursions between the dead city and the living one. With the right wards and preparation, delvers can enter the dead city and retrieve books and artefacts, but they risk not only the dangers of the dead city, but the Rectification Authority in the living one.
Kai Pohala—who will be familiar to many from Full Fathom Five—comes to Agdel Lex for business meetings. Once there, though, she finds herself approached by her estranged sister Ley. Ley wants money, a lot of money, fast—for a business deal for which she won’t give Kai any details. When Ley goes on the run for a crime she definitely committed, Kai races against time to track her down and keep her safe. Even if that’s not what Ley wants.
Zeddig is a delver, and Ley’s ex-girlfriend. Ley comes to her for help, but plays her cards close to her chest—but Zeddig is still in love with Ley. Zeddig and her team—scholar Raymet and exiled Camlaander Knight Gal—are swept up in Ley’s schemes. There’s a facility out in the wastes that Ley needs to rob… but Kai, and the Rectification Authority that’s taken a serious interest in both Kai and her sister, are hard on her heels.
Tara Abernathy, who appeared in Three Parts Dead and Four Roads Cross, and Izza, who along with Kai, was a major player in Full Fathom Five, also return in this novel.
Ruin of Angels is a story about relationships and misunderstandings, about being faced with loss and destruction and personal moral compromise and building something anyway. Misunderstandings, miscommunications, and pride are at the heart of the major relationships in this book: in the sibling relationship between Kai and Ley, which, however strained, has love at its heart; in the relationship between Ley and Zeddig, complicated by colonialism and broken trust, but eventually mending into a pretty epic reconciliation; in the relationship between Izza and her past, as she comes face to face with it in Agdiel Lex; and in the relationship between Raymet and Gal which comes to a pretty epic climax if you’re of a romantic turn of mind.
It’s also a story about history and control: the Iskari want to erase Alikand, to make the city they built atop its ruins—Agdiel Lex—the only city with any reality. Their goals will unmake the parts of Alikand that have interpenetrated with Agdiel Lex, and result in the deaths of the people who live in those districts. Progress: who gets to decide who pays the cost?
Although Ruin of Angels weighs in at more than 560 pages, Gladstone’s tight pacing and thriller-like narrative structure make it feel like a much shorter book—or at least a fast one. The characters are compelling, the worldbuilding batshit and complex and lush in the way I’ve come to expect from a Gladstone book. Any series runs the risk of growing stale, but Ruin of Angels is garden-fresh. It’s ambitious and epic and really good, and I look forward to reading much more of Gladstone’s work.
Ruin of Angels is available now from Tor.com Publishing.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.