RogerBW's Blog

Last First Snow, Max Gladstone 09 June 2020

2015 fantasy. In the city of Dresediel Lex, the run-down area down by the docks is to be redeveloped, and everyone will make a lot of money. Except for the locals, but who cares about them?

There is no warning that this happens twenty-odd years before Two Serpents Rise. Characters familiar from that book seem to be acting more naïvely and more crudely than they did there… and hang on, wasn't he an adult then? So yeah, it's decades earlier, and that tells us who's going to live and who's a candidate for dying.

Which is fine, I suppose. A bit disorientating but fine.

What threw me further was the pacing; for reasons, the redevelopment can't go ahead without some sort of agreement from the locals, so Elayne Kevarian sets up the negotiations, but it's all larded with foreboding, dragging out to the point that one just wants them to get on with it… but it's more than 40% of the way through the book that The Thing happens and the real story starts.

"Whatever happened," he said, "to the woman who razed the Askoshan Necropolis? I miss her."

Elayne let one corner of her mouth creep upward. "She wouldn't have survived as long as I have. She didn't, in fact."

All right, some of this is personal taste. I have the same reaction to this kind of synthetic narrative tension in other media, and particularly in comedy (the trope where someone is digging himself deeper and deeper, and everyone except that person knows it). Here there's lots of honest negotiation going on and you know it's all going to be pointless.

But with the bones of the analogies to real-world finance and the Occupy movement lying so very close to the surface this time, the differences became more obvious. Yes, there are parallels with Occupy and the eternal problem of American police violence, but here the Craftspeople (financiers) don't only want to make lots of money from the redevelopment; there's a genuine concern that with the old God-powered wards failing the poor district could be a point of vulnerability to external magical attack that would destroy the rest of the city too. That attempt to wedge in some symmetry broke the story for me, because (especially combined with the arbitrary ruling that the locals have to be consulted) it was so obviously an authorial thumb on the scales to get the two sides talking to each other that my suspension of disbelief crumbled.

Elayne briefly considered gutting the man, and decided against it. In her experience spraying a Court hallway with blood and other humors was rarely a good idea. That one time in Iskar had been a special case.

And without that, well, I suppose I can admire it on a technical level, and there's a pleasant leavening of humour, but while many people regard this as the best of the books so far it seems to be aimed very much at readers other than me.

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