Dead Country: a new Craft novel by Max Gladstone
I read this courtesy of the publisher, Tordotcom. It’s out in March 2023.
I love the Craft series, and this is a really, really good Craft story.
It’s also quite unlike any of the other Craft books… although I should add that it’s been long enough since I actually read the first books that I had to go double-check that “Tara Abernathy” was actually a name I recognised. Which tells us two things:
a) sometimes I have a bad memory, but actually that can be good with things like this because it means I get to enjoy them in a different way, and
b) it means that you can definitely read this without having read the other books. The facts around what the Craft is (a variation on magic) and what the world is like (frankly a bit screwy) are all obvious enough from the get-go, as is Tara’s personality and general background.
Having said that it’s a really good Craft story, it’s actually quite different from the other books (ok, maybe from what I remember…). They are set in cities, and with high stakes in play, and quite an assortment of characters, as well as a fair bit of politics/ legal wrangling. This, though… the setting here is super compressed. Tara has come home, to the small and suspicious town she got away from on the edge of the Badlands. And pretty much the entire story is set right there, in that town: there’s Tara’s arrival on foot, and then an excursion into the Badlands, and that’s it. No bright lights. No ‘I’m the ruler and I say so’. There’s a threat to her town, and even though most of them don’t really know what to think of her and some have treated her badly, that’s not something Tara is going to put up with.
Gladstone’s sense of place is wonderful, and makes me wonder whether he’s spent some time in a small town himself. There’s all the cliches, of course, about small towns and the lack of privacy, the suspicion of difference and outsiders – my Nan moved to her husband’s small town when they married, at about age 19, and 60 years later there were still some people who regarded her as an incomer. And Gladstone uses some of those tropes, but not at all in a mean way. He shows it as the reality it is: that those aspects can be both damaging and comforting. That secrets can still exist, for good or ill, and that outsiders can still find a place – but it might have a cost. So yeah, I loved that aspect of the story a lot.
In fact, I really liked this whole novel. Tara is complex and conflicted and also highly competent. The other characters are distinct and generally interesting – I’m intrigued to see what happens next with Dawn, Tara’s maybe-protege, in particular. For all that it’s set in a small town, and there’s no suggestion that the events here will have a significant impact on the major centres of power (well… mostly…), there’s also no suggestion that it’s not important to deal with the raiders and secure the town’s safety. Too often big stories ignore towns like this one.
Think I’m going to go back and read the Craft again now.