“For false gods, they cast long shadows.“
Forty years after the God Wars, Dresediel Lex bears the scars of liberation—especially in the Skittersill, a poor district still bound by the fallen gods’ decaying edicts. As long as the gods’ wards last, they strangle development; when they fail, demons will be loosed upon the city. The King in Red hires Elayne Kevarian of the Craft firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to fix the wards, but the Skittersill’s people have their own ideas. A protest rises against Elayne’s work, led by Temoc, a warrior-priest turned community organizer who wants to build a peaceful future for his city, his wife, and his young son.
As Elayne drags Temoc and the King in Red to the bargaining table, old wounds reopen, old gods stir in their graves, civil blood breaks to new mutiny, and profiteers circle in the desert sky. Elayne and Temoc must fight conspiracy, dark magic, and their own demons to save the peace—or failing that, to save as many people as they can.
CW: smoking, violence (including gun violence), loss of a loved one, child death, graphic injury, medical scenes, animal death, gore, body horror
Last First Snow may not be the stunner that Full Fathom Five was, but it has one very, very important thing going for it: it complicates the hell out of characters we’ve already met in previous installments. Chiefly, it centers around Elayne Kevarian, the stern Craftswoman we know from Three Parts Dead, and Temoc, Caleb’s father and apparent terrorist in Two Serpents Rise. While neither one is especially endearing or even seems particularly human or vulnerable in their initial appearances, Last First Snow cracks them wide open, pulls them up by the roots for all to see.
And I loved it.
The weird thing is, I wasn’t sure I would. With the last trip to Dresediel Lex being something of a disappointment, and my feelings about Temoc boiling down to “wow, what an asshole,” I found it hard to believe when I started that I would have such strong feelings about how this has all shaken out.
Here I am, though, so delighted to have seen the full scope of things.
We may not see Elayne and Temoc during the God Wars, the violent years that shaped them, but Last First Snow follows a war of its own as the people of the Skittersill try to negotiate for the survival of their community against the King in Red. Within that war, with Elayne as magic lawyer trying to do the best she can within the bounds of her contracts, and with Temoc as unofficial leader of the people who seeks peace over outright war, they’re forced to evaluate what matters to them most, and the lengths they’re willing to go to protect these things.
Seeing Elayne as a successful Craftswoman but without her ice cold veneer from Three Parts Dead was amazing, because she really does have a strong conscience, and knows how to rules lawyer her way into a slightly stronger position. It may not give her a total edge, but it gives her just enough to keep the worst at bay sometimes. Sometimes, of course, being the important word, because Last First Snow is as much about what these characters aim to protect as it is about how they grapple with failure. It absolutely acknowledges that you can’t save everyone, but with any moral decency, you have to try.
As for Temoc, he is WILDLY different here than in Two Serpents Rise. He’s a father, a priest who’s tried to change his ways to seek peace and abandon bloodshed, even if it creates a greater distance between him and his few surviving gods. He wants to keep his community in the Skittersill whole, and more than that, he wants his family to be safe. What he does, he does to make sure Caleb and Mina don’t have to live in a world teetering on the edge of conflict, don’t have to worry about constantly living under threat. It’s all such a far cry from the sharp and mysterious Temoc in Two Serpents Rise, and getting to see that transition unfold was a treat! Plus, there was a heavy emphasis on what does and does not work in supporting a community for both progress and preservation, and my anth minor heart was just DELIGHTED.
That said, Last First Snow does amazing things with its characters, but the plot leaves a little something to be desired. It doesn’t really pick up with full force until about halfway through, when things start to go terribly wrong after that half breath where they could have gone wonderfully right. After that, the action sequences are excellent, and the piecing together of solutions was perfectly done, especially where Elayne’s skill at bending the contracts to her advantage comes into play. It’s simply that it takes time to reach that point, time that explores necessary background information and character dynamics, but time nonetheless.
I have to say, I wouldn’t recommend reading Last First Snow first if you haven’t read the rest of the Craft Sequence, given that you’ll miss the full depth of some of the cameos, and of the sheer amount of change Elayne and Temoc in particular go through. It may be chronologically first in the world, but I’m pleased with my choice to read through it in publication order instead, given that I feel I’m getting far more out of it this way.
But as a fourth book in the series, and one with such a strong character focus, I think Last First Snow is a fantastic book, and I’m so pleased that my disappointment with Two Serpents Rise has been eclipsed. Now, one can only hope that trend continues with the next two books in the series!