Dead Country by Max Gladstone

Read February 2023
Recommended for fans of The Craft sequence, fantasy
★    ★   ★   ★   1/2

Leave it to Gladstone to make a liar out of me. I’ve been saying for a few years now that “I don’t really read fantasy anymore,” and honestly, it’s pretty true, but then I went and finished Dead Country in two sittings. Maybe Gladstone shouldn’t count either, because I’m a fan of his Craft series, although I feel he should, because still being totally honest here, I not get into anything he’s done since then. In other words, there’s some reviewer bias here, but it might be a wash. This, though; this was lovely, just absolutely satisfying.

Dead Country doesn’t have the frenetic pace or sarcastic banter of many urban fantasies; it’s more like a book you cozy up with on a rainy day. Full of reflection, it feels a little like an old person‘s book (thinking of both readers and authors), although apparently, it’s the first in a new trilogy in the Craft universe, so I’m not entirely sure where this contemplative tone comes from. Well, I have my suspicions: the pandemic, of course; Gladstone becoming a new father; his return to writing with pen and paper; and no doubt,  being in his thirties, all absolutely have something to do with it.

“There, on the sidewalk, in her small apartment, in boardrooms and at cocktail bars, the memories felt safe, like a story that was over.”

If there was one theme this book has, its that you can’t go home again, even when you do. Since Tara, the protagonist, literally left as a teen with a mob and pitchforks behind her, it is actually a good thing that she’s not going home to the same overt hostility. It is hard for her or anyone else to see it in that light, however, as she is home for a funeral.

“Her memories of Edgemont were memories of distance, difference of being what she, a kid without much experience of hate, thought was hated. They sensed her as a thing apart, and they’d had two options, as any body has for a splinter lodged so deep: to consume the outsider, or reject it.”

I loved the plotting, the inversion of the hero’s quest. The action is slow in building, and I think for those who are looking for action-adventure, this will be a disappointment. This is deeply introspective narration, and every conflict, every encounter, every person brings back echoes of feelings and memories.

“Emotions formed like rocks, by layers, under pressure. On top of the first giddy flash of purpose she had felt when she took up the Craft, as a girl, she’d pressed years of work, sweat, mastery, joy, exhaustion, heartbreak and defeat, subversion, success, despair, self0hatred, all lithified into something she’d call love.”

But she doesn’t have the luxury of time. On the way to her hometown, she rescues a woman from an attack, and then discovers her village home is fortifying itself against the same raiders. Will she aid the people that cast her out?

The tone is fascinatingly philosophical, and when I say that its an ‘old man’s book,’ I say it with a nod to the old man within me as well. I feel like Gladstone’s been peeking at my reading list, looking at my readings on mindfulness, theories of the mind and existentialism.

“You can see which ball they’re going to grab before they know they’ve decided. We think we know our mind. But we’re just riding on a raft in an ocean in a storm, arguing which way the waves should take us.”

For those new to the Craft series, I thought that more than all the other books, this lays out the theory of Craft, gods and the ordering of soul-stuff, so I don’t think this is a bad place to begin at all. In fact, it may be the most comprehensible place to begin.

It’s a sneaky, thoughtful, deeply satisfying book. I can absolutely see where it won’t work for people. Read if you want some emotionally complex, person-centered fantasy (as opposed to a cluster of narratives, such a distressing phenomenon) with a really intriguing world view. I read it in two days. Honestly, I would have tried for one day, but I have this job situation…

Well. Now I’m all excited about fantasy again. Or at least re-reading The Craft sequence.


Many thanks to Netgalley and to Tor/Forge for the advance reader copy. My own opinions, naturally. You think these are the opinions of someone who is paid? And you know, advance copy, quotes may change and all that. But now you get the flavor of the writing.



About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.