‘Two Serpents Rise’ by Max Gladstone

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Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Alternate Earth, Steampunk, Epic Fantasy, Craft Sequence, Mystery, Noir, Aztec/Mexican Fantasy, Cyberpunk, Thriller, Fiscal Fantasy

Similar books: The Traitor Baru Cormorant, A Shadow in SUmmer, City of Stairs

Previous books in the series reviewed: Three Parts DeadFull Fathom Five, Last First Snow

Highly Recommended Urban Water Rights Epic Fantasy

Here’s the TL;DR for my review (SPOILERS!):

Pros

  • Characters. I liked Caleb and Mal, the star-crossed romantic couple who star in this novel. I generally don’t like romance plotlines, but for me this one worked. So +1 to this book, it managed to do something few books manage.
  • Setting. As always, the Craft Universe is gorgeously creative worldbuilding-wise.

Mixed

  • The book is literally about water rights in a growing magical metropolis. I found this a fantastic concept to base a fantasy book around… but someone who’s less nerdy than me might not *get* it.
    • That said, there is plenty of fantastical elements- demonic infestation of various water supplies, magical pacts between supernatural corporations, the infinite torture of gods… This book is NOT mundane.

Cons

  • Slow start. The book only started getting really interesting about a quarter of the way into the book, when the main characters were all introduced and the stakes were raised. It wasn’t that bad before that, though.
  • The characters obsessions with ‘cliffrunning’ (aka parkour) was a bit silly.
  • No humor. I liked Three Parts Dead a lot because of the humor. This book lacks a lot of the comedy- even lacking black humor.

 

There’re demons in the tap water. Be careful what you drink.

Dresediel Lex is a city in the desert, built hundreds of years ago by ancient gods and their human slave army. The gods brought the rains, and in return they demanded human sacrifices. But then the human slaves rose up and smote down the gods, leaving the craftsmen (craft as in witchcraft) in charge of the place. Now the city’s biggest problem is that of water, for with the gods out of the picture no one is making the clouds rain.

Red King Consolidated, the city’s largest Concern of craftsmen helmed by none other than the infamous King in Red, has taken upon itself to bring the city water. RKC has enslaved thousands of gods to this purpose, torturing them nonstop for decades in order to compel them to purify sea water and and fetid water. RKC has one rival Concern, though- Heartstone, a water company which is owned an operated by the Red King’s oldest rival Alaxis. RKC would do anything to defeat their rival corporation- even if it means performing a magical merger between the two corporations.

This merger sets the background for the story. What unfolds is a story of not-quite-dead gods, insurance risk adjusters, ximet demons in the water supply, and terrorist priests. There’s a conspiracy going on trying to sabotage the merger, and it’s up to Caleb of RKC to figure out who is responsible for it before they can prevent the merger.

This is a re-read for me. I think I liked this better the second time as compared to the first.

Characters: Caleb Altemoc is the son of notorious terrorist Temoc. In an ultimate act of rebellion against his rebel father, Caleb went straight and became an insurance adjuster for RKC. Caleb’s a compelling character, for even though he’s holding down a ‘boring’ job, he still has little vices like a gambling addiction to make him interesting.

I liked the relationship between Caleb, a RKC employee, and Mal, a Heartstone employee, because of the whole star-crossed aspect it had to it. That said, to some extent Mal as a character seemed… less than 3D at points. She seemed like a Manic Pixie Dream Warlock at some moments, whose sole job was to pull Caleb out of his funks.

Caleb was this close to being one of the best characters I’ve ever read. He just needed a little more oomph to make him cross the line. I think he would have been better if he was more loyal to his father Temoc, and thus he had more internal conflict on the whole ‘Should I be loyal to my father, or should I be loyal to my employer RKC?’ paradigm.

Plot: I think this book has the best, most straightforward + good twists plot in the entire series (so far). There is a city in a desert, but it needs water. The governing Concerns RKC and Heartstone use magic to acquire that water. But when terrorist priests poison the water, it threatens not only the oncoming merger between the corpos, but also the lives of everyone in the city as well. One thing leads to another, bing-bang-boom, excitement!

Pacing: And here’s where things fall down a little for me. The first part of this book involves cliffrunning, aka parkour, as an important element. I didn’t find this element compelling, so the first part of this book was boring for me. The parkour fades into the background in the latter parts of the book, and the book consequently becomes more interesting.

Setting: Dresediel Lex is an alternate version of Los Angeles, but with some Mesoamerican vibes added in for good measure. The skyline is dominated by ancient pyramids and ghettos, with coatl and giant dragonflies transporting people around the city. It’s just cool.

To sum up my views about the book overall, it’s good, bordering on great, if you’re into Fiscal Fantasy (aka Fantasy about economic concerns, using magic to economic effect). If you just want a good fantasy book, this is a perfectly readable Urban Fantasy novel. If you liked ‘The Traitor Baru Cormorant’ for it’s political and economic feel, or ‘City of Stairs’ for it’s setting, you’ll probably love this.

That’s it. I enjoyed it. I suggest you start the series with ‘Three Parts Dead’ or ‘Last First Snow,’ then read this. In particular, I think you should read ‘Last First Snow’ before this as this is a direct sequel to that. (Yes, ‘Two Serpents Rise’ was written first. Yes, it is a sequel. Ask the author why he wrote them out of order.)

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