Adrienne Martini Reviews Dead Country by Max Gladstone
Dead Country, Max Gladstone (Tordotcom 978-0-7653-9591-7, $17.99, 256 pp, tp) March 2023. Cover by Goni Montes.
Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence created a world in which slivers of soul are used as currency and lawyers are as close to clerics as you can get. All six books in the sequence can be read independently of each other, mostly, but reading them all in any order tells a more complete story about contract-based witchery and what happens when the gods get involved. The sequence is an engaging, imaginative delight. The only downside is that it can be a lot to take in all at once.
Enter the Craft Wars trilogy, of which Dead Country is the first. It’s a brisk read (by Gladstonian standards) and demonstrates how muscular his writing has grown since our first visits to this world. While Gladstone has always had a unique voice, Dead Country proves he’s figured out what key and tempo suits that voice best.
Tara Abernathy, a badass lawyer who has doggedly done the jobs handed to her in the previous books, is forced to confront something even more terrifying than unhinged gods: her hometown. Her father has died, and so she returns to the place that made her childhood a misery because she had an awesome and terrifying power she didn’t know how to control. On her way from the big city to her small town, she picks up a kid in a similar situation. What follows is a teacher-and-student tale with a body count, curses, and trauma.
While the story itself is gripping, what’s most interesting is what Gladstone has to say about knowing a place in order to make peace with it, as well as the friction between small communities and powerful girls. Dead Country takes this world to a new place, both in terms of the actual story and of the writer’s skill.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the February 2023 issue of Locus.
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