Adrienne Martini Reviews Last Exit by Max Gladstone – Locus Online
Last exit, Max Gladstone (Tor 978-0-76533-573-9, $ 18.99, 400pp, tp). March 2022.
Max Gladstone’s voice is a voice that defies simple description. It is both concise and detailed, sour and silly, dark, but also bright. Last exithis tribute to the great American road story, is peak Gladstone, the voice he has developed through his Hugo-nominated Craft series and his award-winning This is how you lose the time war. Yes, the last title was written with Amal El-Mohtar, but the letter structure only highlights how unique each author’s voice is by giving them something to push against and contrast with.
Last exit is about five friends from college: Zelda, Sal, Ish, Ramón and Sarah. The five discover (both magic and not) the secret behind slipping into alternative versions of reality. After graduating, they spend two years on the road, looking for a better timeline. Instead, they discover only rot – and, more tragically, they lose a member of the team to it.
Ten years later, Zelda is the only one still fighting the blackness that poisons our world. Eventually, the whole band-minus-one is back together and ready to save the world properly this time. Gladstone bounces around in time to fill in all the how and why, while he takes time for small side trips that reflect on the nature of America itself. Like this one about Robert Moses and urban infrastructure: ” Build a road and change a city. Lock it in your sight. Every car that is driven over asphalt is a prayer to the gods the builders choose. ”
When Last exit shoots at all cylinders, the story burns and builds. Gladstone has captured the purifying nature of both love and rage, often in the same passages. There are moments when the story gets lost in one dead end too much, but it feels like an forgivable mistake when the work itself is so distinctive and driving.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with a husband, two children and a corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like the June 2022 issue of Locus.
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