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Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence Book 2) Kindle Edition
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Sixty years ago, the city of Dresediel Lex was liberated (or “liberated,” depending on what side you’re on) from its gods by magic users known as Craftsmen and Craftswomen. These victors set about running the city through the creation of Concerns – legal entities that are much like supernatural corporations heading usually by deathless kings. Enter Red King Consolidated, the massive Concern that now takes care of the needs of Dresdiel Lex, such as providing water to a city in the middle of a desert.
That’s where the trouble starts, for the water is suddenly infested with demons. It’s up to Caleb Altemoc – a risk manager at RKC – to find out where the demons came from. Where they a freak accident, or something more sinister?
The huge strength of this book was the world building. Dresediel Lex is a city shaped around a loosely Aztec culture and mythology, but one that is in modern times and undergoing globalization. Combine that with magic users who seem a lot like lawyers, necromancy, and the undergoing struggle between the faithful and the Craftsmen and you get Dresediel Lex. It is in a word, awesome.
While the liberation of Dresediel Lex may have happened sixty years ago, it’s at the forefront of Two Serpents Rise. While the majority of citizens seem to have accepted the new state of things, the True Quechal wish to restore the gods, and they are known to use terrorist tactics to work towards their goal. This is especially notable as Caleb’s father is Temoc, the last priest of the Quechal gods and a leader of the True Quechal. Caleb’s relationship with his father played in at numerous parts of the book and was very interesting to read about, even if I did end up disliking Temoc.
Caleb was not a particularly interesting narrator, but I didn’t dislike him or find him annoying either. The two characters who stood out the most where probably Teo – Caleb’s lesbian best friend who remained consistently awesome – and the Red King, who is completely fascinating.
While I overall enjoyed Two Serpents Rise, it is not the strongest book in the series. Pick it up if the specifics interest you, but otherwise I would recommend starting with Three Parts Dead or Full Fathom Five. I would suggest this series to people who know they like fantasy and are looking for good world building and diverse characters.
You may also want to check out this interview with Max Gladstone on Two Serpents Rise, which goes into detail about his thought process behind much of it.
A rating of 5 stars is inadequate.
Max Gladstone opens up a new corner of his Craft Sequence world –-Dresediel Lex-- a different city, a new cast of characters, fresh gods. For this reason, TWO SERPENTS RISE can be read as a standalone, not requiring prior reading of THREE PARTS DEAD, although it is designated as the first book in the series and a great story as well.
Gods used to reign in Dresediel Lex, providing many of its needs including power and water. But gods did not provide assistance without sacrifice and the priests offered lives at their altar in recompense. The sacrifices became a point of contention which catalyzed into an uprising. The gods were overthrown and replaced by a king ruling more in the manner of an overlord and sitting at the head of a massive corporate enterprise, Red King Consolidated.
Caleb is the son of a priest of the defeated gods who, in Caleb's mind, sacrificed fatherhood at the altar of priesthood. Seeking to distance himself from his father, Caleb sought employment with RKC, working as a mid-level risk manager under those who had killed or subdued the gods of his father.
While responding to a crisis involving aquatic demons at one of RKC's water facilities –a possible incident of sabotage-- Caleb spies a woman, a possible saboteur. Malina Kekapania is a cliff runner and Caleb is drawn to her from the outset, an enigma that he wished to unravel. When Mal escapes capture, Caleb searches for her. A romance begins with the crisis and blossoms during their joint quest to find the saboteur. Caleb is smitten--
“She was beautiful, he thought, as weapons were beautiful.”
“And pretty is not even the right word. She burns. She's a verb.”
“Mal runs like there's something after her with teeth and something ahead brighter than gold.”
Mal is free-spirited, intelligent, talented, causing Caleb to shed his cautious restraint and drawing him into her spinning vortex--
“He tossed inside her kiss like a splinter in a flood. Too soon. Too strong. A crashing kiss, a kiss with death at the bottom.”
“Being around her was a rush of genius and expectation.”
“Godhood began with watching her leave, and feeling her still present.”
“She was a single purpose crafted into flesh, and as Caleb grappled with her, he forgot terror, forgot fear, forgot himself and became a single purpose too.”
The relationship between Caleb and Mal is subtle and mesmerizing, the attraction between them explodes like fireworks, but the romance is woven into the grander tapestry that is the story of TWO SERPENTS RISE. While their interactions and exchanged anecdotes in the process of getting to know each other discloses their character and background, they also impart information about the people, faith and political, economic and social infrastructures of Dresediel Lex. Particularly noteworthy are the fascinating creatures intricately bound to the city's infrastructures.
TWO SERPENTS RISE is primarily concerned with the infrastructures that provide and control water in Dresediel Lex. To say that the system is complex is an understatement. Dresediel Lex is a progressive city, expanding quickly in population and concerns, all of which are extremely thirsty. The water system or what I have come to think of as an aquastructure pipes water from thousands of miles away, some requiring the desalination of ocean water. Dresediel Lex draws and channels power, including that used to operate the aquastructures, from a combination of sophisticated and fantastical sources-- Craft or magic wielded by seasoned practitioners, two serpents, fallen gods and a variety of mechanical implements. The failure of any one arm endangers the entire system.
The conspiracy unravels slowly, like the numerous bas reliefs of Dresediel Lex, seemingly struggling to burst through but always partially hidden. The suspects are numerous, not the least of which is Caleb's father, the last of the old priests, untiring in his efforts to restore the old world order. But whomever the mastermind, always you sense a grand design behind the various small crises, an epic scheme intended to totally change the landscape of Dresediel Lex for all time.
TWO SERPENTS RISE is a story of survival and its often high price. It involves rolling multi-sided dice to determine who shall be sacrificed for the greater good and who shall endure, but always with the overall objective of sustaining Dresediel Lex. The sacrifice is sometimes offered, sometimes forced, sometimes hidden from the general public because what you are not aware of cannot make you uncomfortable and what cannot make you uncomfortable cannot bloom into unrest. While there is a conspiracy and traditional villains in this story, it can be viewed in a way that no one absolute hero or villain exists. Exigencies and practical considerations require difficult decisions. The most difficult decisions would always usurp the godly power over suffering, life and death.
I cannot say enough about Max Gladstone's writing. This is one of the best books I have read in recent years. He makes everything come alive-- the city, the characters, the tension, the mood. I found this particularly sublime--
"The world changed, like walking on a tidal beach: one step dry and warm and yielding, the next wet, cold, firm. The pleasant sunlit world faded. Mountains surrounded them, crags old as the frame of the earth. Trees shivered in the wind of their passing, restless shades rising from hungry sleep. This was the world immortal. It would endure man's scrabbling on its surface, and rejoice when the last city crumbled."
With TWO SERPENTS RISE, Max Gladstone has earned a venerated place at my literary altar. The altar is imaginary, of course. Having an actual altar would be...creepy.