REVIEW: Two Serpents Rise

Max gladstone
two serpents rise (Craft Sequence #2)
TOR books
october 29, 2013

Blurb via

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.

I really enjoyed the predecessor to this book, Three Parts Dead, so much so that it was definitely in my top 5 books I read in 2013. And I enjoyed that one so much that I convinced myself to look past the ridiculous $11 Kindle ebook price and purchase book 2 as well. Because I really hungered for more of Gladstone’s fascinating Craft-built world and characters. Book 2, however, is immensely different in tone, character types and overall execution. While these things aren’t bad in and of themselves, this time what came after book one couldn’t live up to it, not for this reader.

Two Serpents Rise is set, of course, in the same fascinating world Gladstone laid the foundation so well for in Three Parts Dead, except this time we visit the immensely populated and water-hungry desert metropolis of Dresediel Lex. Caleb Altemoc works for the city’s most powerful concern (concerns are kind of like another word for corporation), run by the infamous Red King, who freed the city once upon a time from the rule of the gods. Caleb is somewhat of a glorified detective for the company and when something goes wrong with the water supply Red King Consolidated is solely responsible for, he’s the man who finds out what went wrong. It’s on such a mission that he meets Mal, an intriguing, sexy cliff runner who seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Caleb is instantly smitten, for lack of better terms, and soon reader’s can’t be sure what’s more important: that the city’s water supply is in imminent danger (and a shit ton more of godly proportions), or whether Caleb will finally get to do the deed with Mal.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love me a good romance amidst all the excellent machinations, world building and intricacies of an excellent fantasy novel. But it must be done right. Unfortunately, the relationship between Caleb and Mal is always stilted, awkward and so painfully, obviously not an actual relationship that it weighed everything else about the book down for me. Caleb for one is a confuzzling mass of slightly emo man who can’t quite seem to bring himself together and focus on the very real dangers that are mounting when Mal is either on his mind or right in front of him. It was as if he reduces to this just-budding teenage boy who’s suddenly realized girls have boobs. He’s constantly flustered, wooden and so devoid of personality when he thinks of her or is around her that the relationship between them began to feel forced.

Mal was obviously never actually interested in Caleb. The reason this grated on me is because it takes up half the book’s plot. There is pretty much zero attraction between the two, despite the “lust” mentioned in the book’s description above. I was unable to separate myself from this growing irritation their so-called relationship caused because the story never once allows it. Eventually the two do officially become involved after much ridiculous running atop city buildings with often bone-crunching results on Caleb’s part, yet the two have about as much apparent affection between one another as a mongoose and a snake. Their relationship was as exciting as watching paint dry.

The reason this was such a damn shame is because the author has penned yet another book, too, that is filled with a fascinating world extended from what was begun in book one. We have an entirely different set and typecast of gods this time, more centered around a kind of Aztec-esque theme where sacrifice was integral to everyday life before the Red King stepped in and kicked some ass, with new demons and other such types to learn. As a result, too, we had an interesting character in Caleb’s father, a former priest dedicated to the old way of life who pops in and out of Caleb’s life. The book is still populated with fun discoveries of this world and there’s some good twists. The overall plot gets much better in the last third of the book, when Mal’s true personality, aka the book’s enormous and obvious White Elephant, is finally revealed. Caleb, too, takes on a much more interesting persona as he realizes what he needs to do as a result of what is revealed of her part in the whole plot. It was as if until the last third, Caleb is this ghost that can barely manage to do anything, but once freed of his pursuit of Mal, he actually blossoms as a character.

When this kind of thing happens for me in a book, a relationship that tries so hard to be a major part of the plot but clearly isn’t working, I lament it so much because the rest was clearly so, so good. I can’t fathom why the choice to drag out such a badly done pseudo romance. I feel as if Mal would have been a much better character herself had she not been this forced romantic focus for Caleb, and, really, this was such a disservice to her character. As a result, I feel like her character was short-changed and that we could have had a better chance to get to know her had she been given a different main point earlier in the book.

fullfatomfiveThat being said, I’m still very much go for the series’ world and am excited to see what will happen in book three, Full Fathom Five (Isn’t that a FAB cover?), set for a July 2014 release. Hopefully the characters will make better sense and engage me more.

Rating: Two and a Half Scoops

Series order:

  • Three Parts Dead
  • Two Serpents Rise
  • Full Fathom Five (July 2014)
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    • Hi, Azteclady! Thanks very much. :) Got sick right before Thanksgiving, had to host Thanksgiving dinner, everyone else got sick with the same sinus stuff after that and busy busy busy! I hope you had a great holiday, too and YES, best wishes for 2014 to you as well!

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