Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone – Book Review

Book Review

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Two Serpents Rise Book CoverIn a genre that is dominated by the gritty and dark following the recent popularity of Game of Thrones, Max Gladstone delivers an impressive tale with an ultimate message of hope. Yes, there are problems in the world and they may seem unbeatable, but there is always a chance for a happy ending if someone is willing to stand up and go to work.

The second installment in the Craft Sequence continues the trend established by Three Parts Dead and introduces the reader to a richly detailed world that layers magic and history with our modern era. Except this time, Gladstone brings us to Dresediel Lex, a desert city with trappings that evoke the Aztec Empire’s culture (including flying feathered serpents).

Though, as I said, not all is well in the world. It hasn’t been that long since the Gods War, a time where magical Craftspeople and Gods did battle for control over the fate of the world. It seems that Dresediel Lex was hit especially hard because without the Gods to interfere and provide divinely filtered water, just how do you slake the thirst of a rapidly expanding population?

Oh, and you have to manage all of this while battling a priest (turned terrorist) of the old order who wants nothing more than to bring back the Gods and continue sacrificing blood and hearts to the twin serpents that slumber deep beneath the earth. Sounds easy, right?

There’s a lot of Two Serpents Rise that is reminiscent of the noir genre. There is a threaded mystery that begins with a dead body, a gambling hero who recently quit smoking and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – a trope that is often found in the various “-punk” subgenres.

While the framework of these characters draw heavily from established archetypes, that isn’t to say there’s no depth or originality to be found. The hero, Caleb, loves his city and would do anything to keep it running, a task that he’s quickly realizing is untenable unless some serious changes are made at Red King Consolidated, his place of employment and the only thing keeping the city from drying up. All of this is wrapped up in the issues with his father, the aforementioned priest/terrorist, and their conflicting ideologies.

Kopil, the Red King, starts as an imposing skeleton clad in a red robe, more mythic figure than individual. The triple click of his skeletal bones inspires fear in all under his employ as he walks. He has fought and killed deities in the Gods War and saved the city. But Kopil isn’t only an imposing force of might and magic. His motivations are rooted in a much more human emotion than you might expect from a skeleton.

Even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is more than the trope label I assigned to her. Mal begins as a thrill-seeking opportunist that quickly catches Caleb’s attention and doesn’t let go. Yet, there’s more to this girl than it first seems and she’s ready to do anything for what she believes in. As Caleb tracks her through the city and they begin a relationship her true personality is carefully revealed was worldly issues are revealed.

Dresediel Lex is running out of time. Whether it be from the attacks from those faithful to the Gods, inevitable drought due to overpopulation or some other threat from outside, it doesn’t seem like the city will last long. Gladstone doesn’t solve every single problem. This isn’t any fairy-tale, Disney ending. But neither will it be a hopeless battle of despair. Give Two Serpents Rise a shot and see just how Caleb goes to work to to save his city and restore hope to a world still suffering from a past war.

Book Synopsis:

In Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone, shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc—casual gambler and professional risk manager—to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, Crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father—the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists—has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire…and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

– – – This review was originally posted at Fantasy-Faction – – –

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Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone – Book Review

Book Review

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead Book CoverMax Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead is fantasy of a different flavor. Instead of taking our world and adding magic (such as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops), this is a world born of magic that has progressed to a point that mirrors our modern age. It’s a story of magical corporations and necromancer lawyers.

I bet I’ve got your attention now.

As a first-year associate of the necromantic firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, it’s up to Tara Abernathy to solve the murder of a dead God and bring him back to life. If she doesn’t, the city of Alt Coulomb will crumble into chaos. Her only chance is to win in court against opposing counsel.

It may seem like a stretch, a fantasy book based on lawyers rather than warriors, but that’s its true beauty. Gladstone managed to write a beautifully clever story. And he did it in a way that made the idea of fantasy lawyers interesting. It’s a novel that tackles important ideas of faith, politics and the privileged while keeping the excitement of magical duels with shadow and nightmare.

It’s unfortunate how uncommon strong female leads are. Fortunately, Gladstone decided to give us two strong female leads in his debut novel. Tara is a prodigal daughter who was graduated from the Hidden Schools just so they could cast her out, from a thousand feet in the air. She’s talented in the use of the Craft and has a sharp, ready whit that’s fun and likable. Her mentor, Elayne Kevarian on the other hand is the cool, detached master of her trade that is always five steps ahead and radiates power and elegance.

Our trio of protagonists is rounded out with the chain-smoking priest Abelard. The last person to be with the God, Kos Everburning, before his death, he’s understandably going through a crisis of faith. It’s through Abelard and his questions that we come to understand the ramifications of the death of his God. To Tara, it’s a client, to Abelard; it’s his purpose in life. Some of the most interesting pieces of prose are in watching this man deal with that loss.

There are a couple of antagonists throughout the book but it was the primary enemy that really caught my eye. It’s a villain you’re trained to hate from the moment you understand his history with the heroines. He’s the crazy yet charming villain we all find ourselves eerily drawn to.

The narrative requires a small buy-in of your time. That is, you’ll have to work a little bit to follow the influx of characters. Gladstone never goes so low as to info dump but he does dive straight into the world and expect you to figure it out and follow along. You shouldn’t worry it will ever be too much though, as the prose includes a healthy dose of fun and freedom that makes it much easier to swallow.

And it’s those moments of fun that strongly resonate. One such moment was the casual mention of Tara cackling loudly as she raised the dead early in the book. It’s a little diamond of self-aware prose that made me fall in love with Tara as a character and Gladstone as an author. That’s without getting into the vampire pirates or the gargoyles that have been exiled from the city yet still leave claw marks in the buildings that are poems to their Goddess.

Gladstone struck gold when he wrote this secondary-world fantasy that explores modern society. It features all of the things we love about fantasy in a world that is familiar yet strange. In this book you’ll find echoes of your own life, just with more starlight-fueled magic.

Book Synopsis:

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

– – – This review was originally posted at Fantasy-Faction – – –