“Death came cheap in Agdel Lex, if you knew the market and weren’t afraid to comparison shop.”
The God Wars destroyed the city of Alikand. Now, a century and a half and a great many construction contracts later, Agdel Lex rises in its place. Dead deities litter the surrounding desert, streets shift when people aren’t looking, a squidlike tower dominates the skyline, and the foreign Iskari Rectification Authority keeps strict order in this once-independent city―while treasure seekers, criminals, combat librarians, nightmare artists, angels, demons, dispossessed knights, grad students, and other fools gather in its ever-changing alleys, hungry for the next big score.
Priestess/investment banker Kai Pohala (last seen in Full Fathom Five) hits town to corner Agdel Lex’s burgeoning nightmare startup scene, and to visit her estranged sister Ley. But Kai finds Ley desperate at the center of a shadowy, and rapidly unraveling, business deal. When Ley ends up on the run, wanted for a crime she most definitely committed, Kai races to track her sister down before the Authority finds her first. But Ley has her own plans, involving her ex-girlfriend, a daring heist into the god-haunted desert, and, perhaps, freedom for an occupied city. Because Alikand might not be completely dead―and some people want to finish the job.
CW: loss of a loved one, misgendering, drug use, homophobia, violence, body horror, gore, graphic injury, torture, smoking
Believe it or not, I can summarize this book in four words. Yes, only four words for a 500-odd page book. Sounds tough, but in this case, it really isn’t.
Because never in my life have I read a book that’s more “BE GAY DO CRIMES” than Ruin of Angels!
Seriously, though, go back and read the summary. Not only is it queer as hell, but combat librarians? Grad students? Dispossessed knights, squid gods, and other assorted figures? That alone should clue you into how bonkers good this book is. If a summary can list all those oddball elements in a way that makes sense, then you know you’re in for a wild ride.
Possibly my favorite thing about this was all the sapphic characters. There are FIVE characters on the page who are explicitly women who love women, and only one of them is an antagonist. The other four make up the bulk of the be gay do crimes (pay off student loans) squad, with three emphasizing being gay and doing crimes, and the fourth one essentially a lawful good paladin who’s just along for the ride, letting her fellow ladies break all kinds of laws because those laws aren’t just to begin with. Throw in some mutual pining, some friends to lovers to enemies to lovers, a great deal of scheming, and HEISTS, and you pretty much have the lady-led heist of my dreams.
More of that in fiction, please.
But really, besides the fact that the bulk of our main cast is queer ladies trying to save the world, I actually loved how their different personalities played out. The cool, collected knight, the hot-headed scholar, the fiercely devoted delver, and the brains behind the operation.
I do wish we’d gotten more from the brains’ POV, because Ley Pohala could have been a far more interesting character from inside her own head. That said, plot elements required we didn’t know exactly what she was planning, and we still got plenty of Pohala content, because Kai from Full Fathom Five is back! She’s Ley’s older sister, and while she may not be big on the whole doing crimes aspect of Ley’s life, she does want more than anything to keep her sister safe, and I am a SUCKER for sibling stories, let’s be real. It puts the sisters at odds more often than not, but it felt so real (when do siblings ever really always get along???), and I also just adored seeing Kai again. She’s as sure of who she is as ever, and as stubborn in doing the right thing as she was in Full Fathom Five. Plus, her involvement, means my favorite Prophet Thief is back as well, and I love the chapters told from Izza’s point of view!
Another cool thing, though, is that Kai isn’t the only trans character in the novel! She meets another character during her business negotiations who is a trans man, and while the story as a whole isn’t about being trans (the same way the story as a whole isn’t really about being gay so much as it is about doing crimes), it really drives home that the Craft World is wonderfully diverse. Queer people just exist, and sometimes, they also save the world. Or do crimes. Or both.
Of course, there’s a little bit of Max Gladstone’s “the first half will be a little slower so the second half hits you in the face like a rocket launched from point blank range,” but it’s actually not as bad as the other Craft Sequence books, and I don’t mind a little bit of slowdown for establishing a wider plot anyway.
Possibly the thing I love most, though (if we don’t count the sheer amount of sapphic representation), is the power of story that comes through in Ruin of Angels. I wouldn’t have thought story could have so much to do with dying cities and resistance to squid gods, but more than once, the power of story to shape the world, one piece at a time, comes up, and that’s a theme that tends to sink deep into my heart and stay there. Story may not make massive immediate change, but it can make little changes that help spur greater change. I love seeing that in motion, love seeing worlds being shaped by words, I really do.
And naturally, speaking of worlds, Ruin of Angels yet again expands the Craft world, giving us a look into another new locale, into the wreckage of the God Wars, into the direction the world is heading, into what lies beyond. That last point has me wondering if I’ve fallen for another story that ultimately plans to resolve itself through interplanetary warfare (you would not BELIEVE how often this happens to me; I’m not even actively looking for interplanetary warfare stories!), but that’s hardly something that’s going to put me off.
Ruin of Angels might just be my favorite installment in the Craft Sequence, and it’s solidified my opinion even further that this is a series worth sticking with until the end.
Whenever that end arrives, of course. Ruin of Angels is the most recently published Craft Sequence novel, and I suspect there’s a long wait on the horizon to see the full scope of the sequence unfold.
But I’ll be here, waiting, choosing favorite characters, appreciating the hell out of the be gay do crimes squad. Ruin of Angels had so many elements I adore, and I have to stick around to share that adoration even more. 💛