Four Roads Cross

Cover of Four Roads Cross.

After reading Three Parts Dead in preparation, it was time to read this book – part five in the series that Three Parts Dead starts, but also the direct follow-up. I hadn’t remembered the characters at all: Abelard, the mechanic monk, and Tara, the craftswoman who, in the end, decided to leave the industry and work for the Church of Kos, for little money, because she’s needed.

The basic conflict in this book is very much industry vs institutions. Kos and his resurrected partner Seril provide for the city, and the markets sense the weakness in their bond (literal and financial) and seek to exploit it. Tara has prepared for it, but not well enough, and it’s generally a mad scramble to find the right Deus Ex Machina (again, literally, gods and machines are involved) in time.

I liked a lot of small things: the poems written by the flying people in the shapes of nature and city streets, which include the moonshine and angle of view in their grammar. Yess. The realistic depiction of Tara’s reality of work and life – even though it was obviously moralising blah, it was also correct. The strategising with a mix of economics and theology.

But there was a lot more overarching stuff that I didn’t like: The romance, the relationships generally, the weirdly hermetic characters, the fact that Gladstone decided to break out the humour in awkward places that don’t fit the tone of the book and the earlier books. (“The nurses had a fit when Tara tried to check out. Fortunately, the hospital knew how to handle fits”).

And then there’s the principle of the thing: Gladstone is oddly similar to China Miéville in his strong convictions, but unlike Miéville, he beats his readers over the head with them, repeatedly, until he’s sure we’ve understood. I do think the world is neat and set up well and I’ll enjoy watching its economy implode, but I don’t need the constant teachable moments. That’s, like, high-school levels of interpretation being shoved down your throat (German readers: Abiturientenrock, same vibes).