reviewed Dead Country by Max Gladstone

Dead Country (2023, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 4 stars


Since her village chased her out with pitchforks, …

Dead Country

4 stars

This book is the first in a new series of novels that Max Gladstone is writing to wrap up his Craft universe. My bias here is that I really enjoyed the previous Craft Sequence set of books, but most of those were one-off stories in a shared universe. This series is pitched as "a tight sequence of novels" and I think it hits that mark far more than any of his previous books. This book's plot stands on its own as a compelling action-filled story about coming home to a place that doesn't want you anymore, but it weaves in personal backstory and trauma (you thought Tara might have been done with) as well as larger existential threats (that are just such a perfect fit for the craft itself).

If you don't know this universe, I think this Max Gladstone interview with Sarah Gailey sums up what the Craft Sequence is all about:

The story revolves around Tara coming back to her small town for her dad's funeral. Everybody in the town deeply distrusts her (she's dangerous and powerful, left them all behind before, but also she tried to raise the dead to help the town once sooo...). I don't think this is a queer story per se (although there are some queer characters), but it is certainly hard for me not to see a story of "community rejection" and "coming home unwanted" as not having a lot of queer narrative parallels (at least personally speaking).

This tension really serves the book well, as Tara works during the book to protect her small town who at times actively hates her. Tara struggles to do better than those around her, to not reenact her past traumas onto her student, and to not just solve problems through power by using other people as things. It feels a lot that this might be a larger theme that is going to run through this series.

There's been some running jokes about Max Gladstone not writing straight relationships well (sorry, Two Serpents Rise), but I feel like the straight relationship here works much better. I think it's a little bit of a relationship of convenience in some ways, but Tara talks about "liking his perspective" which, in a book about craftwork as a way of perceiving things differently, is a very believable value for Tara.

Finally, having read the craft sequence books at least twice, it's hard for me to come unbiased to a "how much do you need to know to enjoy this" perspective. I think if this book sounded interesting, you could start here and it would be more than fine. There's enough explanation of Tara backstory and how the craft works that you will not be lost. There's some mentions of Shale and Seril (only slightly on page), Tara being a priestess-not-really, and some other tiny references that reading Three Parts Dead and Four Roads Cross will fill you in on, but they're not necessary. I think this book would be a great place to start if you haven't already.