Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first two books in this series were a hit and a miss for me. Three Parts Dead was great; Two Serpents Rise I didn't like nearly as much.
This was primarily because of the main characters. Tara in Three Parts Dead was smarter than anyone else, but didn't let it go to her head; instead, she cultivated alliances, not in a scheming way but with people she liked, and won the day through a combination of clever improvisation and determination. Caleb in Two Serpents Rise drove the plot largely by being an idiot and alienating people.
This book returns us to Tara, and so I picked it up, hoping for a repeat of my experience with the first book. That's what I got.
I got more intelligent, brave choices and clever improvisation from Tara; more assorted, and often not especially powerful, people coming together to do the right thing; and more of the wonderfully bizarre worldbuilding and beautiful phrases that enhanced the first book so much. Anyone capable of writing "as night wrestled day to the ground and kissed him so hard their teeth clicked" or "professional ethics made a hollow sound when struck" gets extra points from me.
There are some wonderful character moments, too, such as "instinctive hatred for an activity was just the world's way of challenging you to master it," or "nothing set Tara so on edge as the sense she was being soothed".
Something that's improved from the first two books, and I suspect this is because a different and more vigilant copy editor is now on the job, is the homonyms. The first two books were rife with basic homonym errors. In this one, I spotted two definites (principle/principal, varietal/variety) and a couple of possibles (hutched/hunched, rifle/riffle). There's also a place where "less" has been used instead of the "more" that would make the sentence make sense; one where the wrong city name is used; and a couple of typos, but only a couple.
What hasn't improved is the frequent absence of the past perfect tense ("a year ago she stood" instead of "had stood"). Every time I hit an example - and there were at least seventeen - it disoriented me and pulled me out of the story.
The other thing that disoriented me was the occasional inclusion of a mundane detail very much of our world, like vinyl or a jazz quartet, when this is very much not our world; or of what seemed to be a form of parody of something in our world a la early Terry Pratchett, like the commercial flight by dragon. It felt, at those moments, like the story didn't know quite what it wanted to be or what its relation to our world was. I realise that in some cases at least, the author was trying to anchor us with a mundane detail, because the importance of ordinary people and their everyday concerns and commitments is a strong theme, but for me it didn't work.
Overall, though, despite these issues, the book worked extremely well for me, and was just the kind of thing I like: determined, principled, brave, intelligent characters allying to take down others more powerful than them in defence of what they love, in a gloriously strange world, with moments of apt description and insightful commentary on the human condition.
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