While at college, Zelda and her closer-than-family friends discovered a way to slip between what they call ‘alts’ – alternative versions of our own Earth, worlds similar to, but entirely apart from our own. They were young, they were looking for adventure, and they found it; until one terrible day that cost them one of their own and splintered the group. Zelda is the only one to reject returning to a more normal life, staying on the road, forever on the move, destroying the rot that slips between the cracks in reality and threatens our own world. But ten years later, the problem’s only growing worse, and when an encounter offers Zelda proof that the woman she loved may be trapped between alts, she knows the only chance to save the world is to get the band back together for one last mission.
This novel is a tapestry of characters, locations, and storylines, all thoughtfully made and woven together into one of the most satisfyingly expansive novels I’ve ever read. There’s a real urgency to the narrative – the world is under threat, our heroes are pursued by a truly terrifying foe – but there’s also moments of contemplation, the reader and the characters given a moment to breathe and gather themselves for the next leg of the journey. The story frequently dips into the backstory of this group of friends and their lives, both before it all went wrong ten years ago, and in the time since they went their separate ways. By the end of the novel, I knew them better than I know some people in the real world – to say it ups the stakes when an author can form that kind of bond between reader and characters is to undersell it.
Max Gladstone is already known for his limitless imagination and beautiful prose, not to mention his ability to find the magic in spaces usually deemed mundane. With Last Exit, he’s held nothing back, creating an edge and a depth of feeling that makes this novel raw and visceral, beautiful even at its bleakest moments and inspiring hope even as it breaks your heart. It’s a rollercoaster, a scream of defiance into an uncaring universe – and a truly excellent book.