Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

I immensely enjoyed the first novel in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, Three Parts Dead, but just couldn’t muster the same level of enthusiasm for the subsequent novels. Which made me a little sad and disappointed. It’s not that I hated the books, I just found them OK, when I was hoping to find them precious treasures. At least Four Roads Cross is a direct sequel to Three Parts Dead, which means it stars my favourite Tara in the leading role, and deals with the aftermath of the first novel’s plot. These are good things! Yay!

Other than that … I just don’t know. I still want to like this series, but the truth is that I just find the books … sort of middling. And so frustrating and boring at times. Meh. Looking at other people’s reviews, I am pretty much alone with this impression. Four Roads Cross has some neat ideas and great moments, and evoked some cool visuals in my mind’s eye, but most of the time, I found myself bored and wondering when the pace would pick up, what the relevance of a scene or a whole subplot or character was even going to be. When would it all pay off? U_U

I started to loathe the whole Matt plot. In the synopsis, it’s described as “a farmers’ market proves more important to world affairs than seems likely” – which sounds quirky! and imaginative! and fun! In reality, it’s a dreary, determinedly ponderous storyline where nothing exciting happens. Ever. An egg merchant takes in three girls after their abusive/alcoholic/racist father is hospitalized. Everyone is blandly Good, Hard-working People Who Stick Together. (Except the racist abusive alcoholic dad, of course!) I know I am meant to be in awe of Claire’s inner strength, saddened that she has to run her family’s business and take care of her sisters, impressed that she does it without complaint … There are detailed descriptions of breakfast preparations, how Claire picks the coffee grounds from the sink … You know, it felt like a tear-jerker newspaper reportage, the sort that describes trivial random things like that for “atmosphere”. Glurge, I guess. I’m allergic to that style of writing, so I guess this was never going to work for me.

And what did it contribute to the main plot? Literally a prayer circle at the end. Oh, the excitement. Man – now that I think about it, there were not many subplots that truly felt like they mattered. None of the new characters ever came alive. I could always tell what I was supposed to think or feel about a character – but I just didn’t actually feel anything about them at all. I had the same issue with First Last Snow and to some extent with Full Fathom Five, so I must accept that it’s probably not a fluke. This is how these books are, and how future books are going to be. I shouldn’t read more.

If I remember right, this was meant to be the final book in the Craft Sequence anyway. But no longer: There will be more books, and the next one will be titled Six Feet Over. I don’t think I should read it, but maybe I will change my mind. Who knows?

(The book titles all include a number that indicates the chronological order of the stories … how long until Craft Sequence readers accidently grab a Janet Evanovich book from the shelf? He he he.)

Oh, I forgot one thing. It’s perhaps a bit petty to complain about this, because I know Max Gladstone’s heart is in the right place. But I still wish the refugees subplot wouldn’t portray the refugees as vessels for demons. Literally! It’s just so uncomfortably close to actual racist propaganda. There are xenophobes who are “worried” that terrorists would pass themselves off as refugees in order to get into western countries and attack, and Four Roads Cross essentially presents a not-so-subtle metaphor for this exact scenario.

Yes, yes, I know … Once the demons have left them, the refugees decide to defend the city that took them in … and they are innocent victims … the real evil mastermind is a “western”, privileged woman … But that doesn’t change the fact that demons sneak into the city in the guise of refugees. I mean, you could have come up with any other plot device to get the demons into Alt Coulomb, but you decided to make that plot device refugees – and Middle-Eastern-coded refugees at that … well, you know. I just think it’s an unfortunate choice. Too close to racist propaganda. If you want to put current social issues into your fantasy novel, you have to do it with care.

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