Wednesday 18 October 2017

Four Roads Cross

(October 2017)

The culmination of the first round (Series? Season?) of the Craft Sequence. I've finally learned not to bounce out of one of these books straight into another, so Ruin of Angels will have to wait, despite the lure of the brand new shiny-shiny.

Four Roads Cross didn’t really pull together as many threads as I’d have liked. Apart from a brief, slightly deus ex machina appearance from Caleb, and the belated realisation that the Cat of Full Fathom Five was in fact the Cat from Three Parts Dead, we’re basically back with Tara in Alt Columb. This is no bad thing at all, as she’s easily my favourite character of the series, and the city’s clearly the best (by which I mean, most appealing, vividly imagined) location.

Stone flies, lawyer-mages fight, gods fall, and it all comes together in what is by now a Gladstone’s signature setpiece of corporate tortomancy. It’s very good. However perhaps the most (unwittingly?) depressing thing about it all was the way Tara’s student loans seem to hover over everything, which is a very American obsession. I mean I understand the obsession, and agree that it’s a symptom of a frankly ridiculous system in the real world, but at the same time it highlights the fly in the ointment of the whole Craft sequence for me. While the entire premise of the worldbuilding is—should be?—a satire on neoliberalism, the degree to which it engages with that system is slightly underwhelming.

This is why I question whether ‘satire’ is the appropriate word, because I’m not sure that it (or similar terms like ‘critique) really is. I’m not entirely sure how much Gladstone wants (or want us) to condemn or laud the system of his world. I’m not sure he knows himself. For all that these are bloody good stories very well told, there’s this ambivalence at their core that continues to niggle. It’s not that Tara has to repay her loans, it’s that they exist in the first place and neither she nor anyone around her seems to question that. It’s simply how this world works, which, given all the wonder and marvel which it also contains—all the marvels and wonders which almost explicitly invites us to consider the socioeconomic underpinnings of our own reality—seems like a failure of imagination. Or, at best, a touch parochial. There are other ways of financing education, you know?

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