‘Full Fathom Five’ by Max Gladstone

Initial Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)

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Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Fiscal Fantasy, Kickass Female Protagonist, Craft Sequence, Thriller

Similar books:

  • None

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

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

  • Pros
    • The setting. I’m a huge fan of this series for it’s setting. Of the three major cities so far explored in the Craft Sequence, Kavakana is my favorite. You have police-torture-golems, mai-tai’s, beat poetry, eldritch squid gods, offshore banking and more.
    • I liked Izza as a character.
  • Mixed
    • On one hand I found Kai to have an interesting backstory and characterization, on the other hand I thought she needed more agency
  • Cons
    • The plot was a bit predictable
    • The pacing was slow. I think the author could have trimmed the book’s length by a good 1/5th. It had a slow start, and I don’t think that buildup was really ever paid off.

 

I’ve reviewed this before (the link to my old review is above). By and large I think that review holds up, but I have a few things to add. This book is better than I remember it being. I listened to the audiobook this time instead of the reading the ebook, and that improved the experience.

Kavakana is the off-shore banking capital of the world, catering to the world’s elite necromancers and gods. These supernatural beings store their magical wealth in Kavakana’s idols, idols which the banker-priests of Kavakana make up to order. (Think of idols as man-made, non-sapient mini-gods.) Kai is their best banker-priest. But one day one of the idols die, nearly taking Kai with it.

Plot: Wasn’t great. This had a standard white-collar, thriller type storyline. The problem was that we the reader had no confirmation that something unethical was going on until like the 60-70% mark. The book’s plot was being propelled effectively by hot air up until that point. To simplify, up until the 70% point in the book we the reader had no clue that there was a plot in this story, as opposed to a chain of interlinking events. It’s a small but important difference.

Additionally, the book NEEDED more red herrings. I believed this the first time I read this two years ago, I confirmed it again this time. Once we finally learned that something unethical was going on, there was only one suspect for who could be the unethical person. The first person who I thought was the bad guy wound up being the bad guy, and there were no alternate suspects for me to suspect.

Pacing: Again, the plot didn’t really reveal itself until the 60-70% mark. There was quite a bit of worldbuilding, stage-setting and foreshadowing in that first 60%, but very little substantive ‘getting the ball rolling’ sort of stuff. In short a slow first half.

Characters: were alright. I liked Izza. I liked Kai in theory. Izza is a street kid who has to fend for herself, stealing bits of people’s souls (souls are wealth in this setting) to get by. Kai is a world class idoloter/banker, and the plot revolves around her solving a mystery.

The reason why I liked Izza more was because she had internal conflict. From early in the book Izza was torn between two things: using the stolen souls she collects to serve her gods and friends, or to use them selfishly. Internal conflict is fun to read about.

Kai, on the other hand, never really had any internal conflict. She was never torn between her loyalty towards her fellow priests and her loyalty to Kavakana, which she should have been.  I liked Kai’s transgender history, I thought that was well handled, but besides that her character arc seemed foreshortened.

Setting: Excellent. Honestly the setting alone bumps my rating of this up from ‘Recommended with Reservations’ to ‘Recommended’ all on it’s own. Kavakana is an island caught in the midst of transition, between the old priestly ways of the past and the modern warlock magic of the present. The priests like Kai struggle to chart a course in dangerous waters, where there are numerous foreign powers which want nothing more than to annex their tiny island nation. The priests of Kavakana use all sorts of magic to keep foreign gods out and keep the local populace in line, all while getting rich off of tourists who want a happy tropical beach vacation.

Prose: On the windowpane/stained glass spectrum of prose beauty (windowpane=crystal clear prose, stained glass= beautiful prose for the sake of beauty) this was slightly on the windowpane glass side of functional prose, but with moments of stained glass prose.

Execution: Not quite there. The author tried to execute on the concept of white-collar-crime in a fantasy setting, and it didn’t quite click for me.

Net total, I liked it but didn’t love it. Start with ‘Three Parts Dead,’ and move on from there. Read this last in the series, as it happens chronologically last.

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