‘The Ruin of Angels’ by Max Gladstone

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended (How I Rate Books)

Personal Rating: Successful Conclusion to the Series (If This is the Conclusion)

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Genres: Mythology, Religion, Craft Sequence, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy(Sorta), High Fantasy, Fiscal Fantasy

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Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:


Spoilers below. You’ve been warned!

The city of Alikand was once the greatest city in the world. It had the largest libraries in the world, and scholars were treated with the highest reverence. For two thousand years the Angels of Alikand served the families of the city, defending mortal kind from the predations of enemy gods and mortals alike. For over two thousand years, Alikand was the hub of peace, trade and learning.

The city of Alikand was destroyed in the God Wars 150 years ago, when mortal wizards smote down the Angels who defended the city in the name of civil rights and ambition. Maester Gerhardt was the first and greatest of these Craftsmen. Maester Gerhardt, the greatest mortal wizard of all time (called a Craftsman in-universe), made his final stand against the gods in old Alikand. Alikand was the site of some of the greatest combat between Craftsmen and gods, combat so terrible that the city nearly became a permanent Rift in Reality (i.e. erased from the flow of reality so completely that it becomes a literal black hole). But in the end the Angels of Alikand won the battle of Alikand by stabbing Gerhardt in the heart, even though it came at the cost of devastating the ranks of the angels and reducing their ancient city to splinters.

Agdel Lex was built up over the ruins of Alikand. Agdel Lex is a modern city featuring all the amenities- such as running water, functioning sewer systems, cars and trains. The Iskari Empire, a civilization devoted to the entity known as Star Squid (think cthulhu) and where every human has a cephalapoidal symbiont, colonized the wasteland of Alikand and did the rebuilding. And by colonized, I mean a mixture of good old fashioned European-style bloodshed and conquest, mixed with infesting the local Alikander’s brains with parasitical brain octopi to mind control them.

The squids sealed up the old wounds in reality made by Gerhardt to save the shattered remnants of civilization. Sure, the Iskari are a fascistic cult of Cthulhu wannabes devoted to absorbing the minds of all lesser organisms, but they’re willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears needed to save the people endangered by the wounds in reality. Agdel Lex limps forward into the future, recovering thanks to the fervor and single minded grace of the squid gods.

But no matter what the Iskari try, they always fail to repair reality in Agdel Lex, for when the angels dealt Gerhardt a mortal wound a hundred and fifty years ago, he refused to die. To stave off death, Gerhardt broke the fabric of time and space in Alikand to preserve his life, freezing time so that he still lives in an eternal moment despite suffering from a fatal wound. Gerhardt still lingers, alive and in pain, in the deepest underlayer of Alikand’s shattered realities, in a Dead City inimical to life and teeming with dead-but-undying monsters.

So there are three ‘layers’ of reality: the dominant layer is Agdel Lex, owned by the Iskari squid gods and their fascio-capitilist cthuthlu cultist. Underneath that, in the hidden corners of the city, is the remaining portions of Alikand, secretly guided by the few remaining Angels of Alikand, doing their best to avoid notice of the Iskari squid colonists. And furthest down there is a layer of reality called The Dead City, where Gerhardt and the Gods War never ended, a shattered moment of torment which goes on and on and on and on. You can travel between any of these optional realities by simply believing your are in a different layer hard enough- though travelling to the Dead City will usually result in your instant death.

‘Delvers’ travel from Agdel Lex in the present to the Dead City, seeking to recover the lost secrets Alikand destroyed when Gerhardt destroyed the city a hundred and fifty years ago. The Iskari squids seek to stop the recovery of these secrets, for whenever someone Delves into the past-alternate reality of the Dead City it brings that monster-infested hellscape of dead-but-undying monsters closer to invading the present day world.

And that’s where the book begins. The Iskari have figured out a way to permanently cut off all the layers of reality save for Agdel Lex. They will use it to end the resistance of the native Alikanders and their Angels once and for all, permanently severing Gerhardt’s hellscape forever. Countless secrets will be lost, the Angels will fade forever, but the squids deem this sacrifice as for the greater good. After all, the wound in reality needs to be closed for the betterment of the entire planet.

This book features the return of several characters from prior books: Kai and Izza from Full Fathom Five, specifically, and to a lesser extent Tara Abernathy from Three Parts Dead and Four Roads Cross. I liked both Kai and Izza more here than I did in their original books. I felt that Tara was kinda underutilized here- she was much better in her previous entries in the series.

Ley is Kai’s sister, and Kai and Ley have a… complicated relationship. Kai is the orderly older sister who just doesn’t understand her rebellious younger sister. As an example of how different they are, look at this: they come from a backwater nation of Kavakana. Kai chose to stay behind and protect her nation. Ley, meanwhile, chose to leave and go to bigger and brighter places elsewhere in the world. Both are powerful personalities, but like water and fire they can’t get along.

I liked how Ley acted as the instigator of the plot. Until fairly late in the novel we weren’t certain she was on the up-and-up. Her friends and sister both couldn’t guess at her motivations.

The book’s pacing was good, but not great. I felt like the author played his cards too close to his chest for the first half of the book. I needed more worldbuilding earlier on. For example, the answers for ‘what are these books we’re Delving into the past for used for’ should have been answered much, much sooner. Another example would be ‘what’s this knife used for?’ These were critical bits of worldbuilding exposition which, if we knew about them sooner, would have increased the tension of the story. As is, they served as McGuffins, and I don’t like McGuffins.

The prose was excellent, as always. Specifically, I like the way the author so casually worldbuilds- I like how he’ll casually mention that there’s an animated statue taking a bus or a weird lizard creature acting as a busboy. Stuff like that. His off-handed fashion for describing the weird makes the book that much more compelling.

Finally, I felt that the Maester Gerhardt plotline was too short. Gerhardt was presented as the B-villain throughout the novel, but he only ever appears in one scene at the climax. We needed to see him more than once, learn his motivations, why he refuses to die, why he’s okay ruining the city of Alikand/Agdel Lex. We need to know these things so that in the end when he chooses to die it has more emotional resonance. It’s hinted at the very end what were his motivations… but for a man who casts such a long shadow over THE ENTIRE SERIES, I wanted more from him. I wanted another Kopil. Instead we got a mute echo of a man who hardly had an impact on the narrative.

Net total, good book… but it really doesn’t stand on it’s own. Start with ‘Three Parts Dead.’

I liked this book as a conclusion for the series (is it a conclusion? I don’t know if more books in the series are coming. I think more are coming).

Here’s my list of favorites in this series, from most to least favorite.

  1. Last First Snow
  2. The Ruin of Angels
  3. Two Serpents Rise
  4. Full Fathom Five
  5. Three Parts Dead
  6. Four Roads Cross

Now to be sure I enjoyed all six, and would recommend you read all of them. Of the six of them, the first five are all ‘Highly Recommended,’ while only the last is merely ‘Recommended,’ so all are quite good books. Again, start with ‘Three Parts Dead.’ If you like that, keep reading.

Enjoy your day!

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