Max Gladstone’s sixth Craft Sequence book, Ruin of Angels, is out and Will and I finally got a chance to finish it up over the weekend. If you are following this blog, you will know we are very partial to the Craft series around here and think everyone should pick it up. Ruin of Angels marked a new chapter in the world’s story as we (hopefully) move to a more linear chronological storytelling style. Has Gladstone found a way to keep things fresh and interesting, or has…actually I will just give you the answer now, Ruin is incredible.
Ruin follows Kai this time, our protagonist from Full Fathom Five. While not my top craft protagonist, she is an interesting character with a lot of depth that champions the idea of “we are who we decide to be, not what other people tell us we are”. Kai is in the city of Agdel Lex for work, and like all of Gladstone’s cities, it is weird and awesome. The city is home to Kai’s sister, Ley, and a large part of the plot revolves around Ley coming to Kai for help while she is in the city and their complicated family relationship. In addition, Agdel Lex exists on the site of one of the major cataclysms of the god wars, the city of Alikand, and as a result the city was turned basically into an explosion trapped in time. To deal with this, the Iskari (squid priests we have heard of in previous novels) altered reality and built a second city (Agdel Lex) on the site – sealing in the dying city (Alikand) under layers of reality. It sounds more confusing in brief than it is in the novel. Now the second city exists on top of Alikand, but it is possible to “fall’ into Alikand which is extremely dangerous due to the fact that it’s basically continuously exploding all the time. In direct defiance of this, Agdel Lex is home to many illegal “delvers” or people who dive into the old city for extremely short periods of time and try to bring artifacts back for profit. The reason this is illegal, aside from it being potentially lethal, is that the two cities are constantly in competition for existence. The more people who believe/acknowledge one of the cities, the stronger its grasp on reality is. This leads to some literal Iskari thought police who need to make sure believers don’t pull the exploding city back into existence and kill everyone. Sounds like a great place to live right?
As with many reviews of incredible books, let’s start with the bad and get it out of the way. The beginning of this book is slow. Kai was a bit frustrating when we last read about her, as she is prone to a lot of introspection which can feel like it hurts pacing and she made some questionable choices that made it harder to like her. While the Kai of Ruin still has her introspective nature, and doesn’t have her life completely together, she is a lot more fun and her story is better paced than previously. On the other hand, her sister Ley constantly tries to be a mysterious figure who projects an air of control, but often instead comes across as selfish and childish. I found Ley difficult to root for at the start of the book, but I did eventually come around. The start of the book as a whole suffers a little from pacing as Gladstone has to flesh out his worldbuilding a lot more than usual at the start of Ruin. This pays off in spades though, as the second half of Ruin is truly one of the most wondrous things I have read in a long time.
Max Gladstone entered the writing scene as a debut author with a lot of spirit, great ideas, and a modern look at fantasy that I loved every moment of. However, while his imagination has always been a powerhouse, I would not have pegged him as a master of prose or pacing back at Three Parts Dead. Since the first craft book, Max’s skill as an author has only risen and his books keep showing that he is only getting better. The prose in Ruin of Angels is absolutely phenomenal, with several passages leaving me emotionally moved, breathless, and fully immersed in his world. For example this line from Ruin is now one of my favorite love quotes ever: “I do not understand you. But neither do I understand fire, or starlight, or storms, and I love them” – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
On top of all of this, Gladstone’s greatest strength – his imagination – has only grown as well. I have rewritten this paragraph seven times trying to convey into words what I experienced reading the back half of Ruin of Angels. The events in the climax of the book truly pulled me out of this world and into his. I found myself walking outside just to look up at the sky, clear my mind, and think on what I had just experienced and relive it. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that I recommend to everyone. I apologize for being so vague, but to tell you more is a major spoiler and I would not want to take this from you. In addition, Max Gladstone found the edge of what I would consider fantasy and stepped over it. I found myself thinking of the explorer, scientist, and philosophers throughout history as his book gave me rush of seeing something completely new and having no idea what it was – but wanting to learn more.
The start of Ruin of Angels is a bit slow, but builds into one of the most revolutionary fantasy books I have ever read. Max Gladstone’s skill as a writer is only growing and I suspect he has a long and extremely successful career ahead of him. I can’t wait to find out where craft will go next because I have no idea, and love it.
Rating: Ruin of Angels – 10/10
-Andrew and Will