A world where the power of law is intricately entwined with necromancy — and passenger airlines are flown by dragon — is a world where souls are nothing more or less than currency, and gods and witch-kings alike are accorded power through their nexus of contracts with reality, their followers, and other Concerns.
Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence is one of my favourite fantasy series in the last few years, borrowing the magic-by-rhetoric of Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods and blending high stakes and dangerously principled characters into a dark post-industrial fantasy.
Below, I’ve included one of my favourite excerpts from the series, an aside from Book 5: Four Roads Cross. The Craft Sequence books 1-5 are available on Amazon.ca in a discounted ebundle for $12.99 CAD, and the newly released Ruin of Angels (Book 6) ebook is currently listed as $2.99 CAD. I highly recommend them, especially the Tara Abernathy books (Book 1: Three Parts Dead and Book 5: Four Roads Cross.)
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” she said. Dragons did not eat people often, certainly not ones they’d agreed to carry.
The dragon watched her as they flew west.
She looked up, because down was too far and so was out, and back and to either side only confronted her with more dragon. The space between the stars comforted her, thick and rich as good chocolate. She’d spent too long in cities. Even the stars above a Craft-ruled metropolis could not match a country midnight. Her eyes adjusted, and the universe emerged. Meeker stars assembled into constellations for which she knew a hundred names, and at last the galactic bow curved above, milky and mottled with indistinct millions. “Nice night.”
Sound below sound composed the voice. She did not fall, nor did she yelp, though she almost did both. Even a Craftswoman could fake only so much composure set beside, well.
“I’m sorry if I disturbed you.”
—There was song before, and there will be song after.
—I play no role in cabin service. If you have trouble, please direct your concerns to the crew.
“I don’t,” she said. “Or at least I don’t have any trouble they can fix. I needed a walk. Were you singing?”
—You do not carry all your soul within yourself.
“I’d go mad. The more you have, the faster your mind spins. It comes apart. That’s what banks are for.”
—Imagine how it feels to have a hoard.
“Oh,” she said. “So you meditate to handle it?”
—Some lose themselves in riddle games or chess or weiqi. Some tell tales or explore. Some dream new worlds. I still the spinning.
“I could use some of that myself.”
“And you carry people from place to place.”
“Why?” After she spoke, she felt a stab of fear that drawing the dragon’s attention to the ludicrous fact of its employment might cause the creature to shrug free of chains, cabins, and gondola alike.
—Are you interested in the particulars of my case, or in general philosophy?
She did not know how to answer, so she said nothing.
—You wonder at power yoked to service. You wonder because you have come into power young and are learning that power comes through the acceptance of a bond. But if to have power is to be bound, then what is power?
“I wouldn’t have put it that way,” she said.
—I bear these people because Craftsmen, broadly speaking, do not love what they cannot use, and destroy what they do not love. So I make myself useful in some minimal way, as do others of my kind.
“Because you’re afraid of us?”
—No. Because I enjoy flying far and fast, and I find this work more pleasant.
“I’m glad to hear it,” she said. “But don’t you find it sad that you have to live like this? That you can’t just hum in a cave somewhere?”
—I find it funny.
—We are what we ever were: huge, strong, and ancient beyond your reckoning. We have crossed vast gulfs of time and space. And you think (the subsonic dread returned in sharp pulses rather than the earlier sustained note, and her mind named the dread pattern laughter) you think because looking at us you can say that one draws a salary, this one bears us from place to place, that your limited comprehension gives you any measure of safety or control. Far ahead, lightning flashed green between towered clouds.
“I’d like to stay out here for a while,” Tara said. “If it’s all right with you. I won’t talk. I just want to watch.”
The great eye closed.
Soon the hum returned.