Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
|Book Name:||Two Serpents Rise|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Urban Fantasy / Steampunk|
|Release Date:||October 29, 2013 (US) December 2, 2013 (UK)|
When I initially got a copy of this book, my first thoughts were along the lines of “Middle manager dealing with demons and extremist attacks for his salaried job? I suppose it would be a change of pace.” And indeed it was, but not in the ways I was expecting it to be.
What initially pulled me into the book was the setting. The world is seriously messed up and problems with the water supply result in demons from the faucets instead. Gods have died in big nasty battles at the hands of mage-like Craftspeople. The city of Dresdiel Lex seems to be the result of the Aztec Empire winning out over Cortez, developing new and more interesting ways of sacrificing people to the gods (who are real), and a horrific civil war that ended with Craft slaying or seriously incapacitating most of the pantheon and the near complete destruction of the priests.
Of course, the few surviving priests are interested in renewing the flow of fresh hearts to their chained deities while the Craft powered corporations have no intentions of ever letting that happen again, but have their own list of really ugly things done with the leftovers from the defeated gods. The politics gave an undercurrent of tension that Caleb is sometimes aware of and that makes everyone uncomfortable when trying to see how they fit into that political space and how the events of the past have scarred them.
There are also coatls. Coatls are cool and not to be confused with any other snakes of unusual proportions.
Many of the characters initially come up as a mild version of a hardboiled stock character. Caleb gambles, he drinks and has no romantic attachments until Mal comes into his life. Mal is portrayed as the mysterious femme fatale. Caleb’s father is one of those extremely dangerous fugitive priests with very obvious aims of attempting to start the sacrifices again. Kopil, Caleb’s boss is a D&D style lich who runs city maintenance (for lack of a better description).
For the most part the characters are all in the process of sliding down various slippery slopes as they attempt to keep the city safe and/or cleansed. Some of the characters never seem to get beyond stock characterizations and unfortunately those characters seem to be rather important to the story, like Mal and Temoc. Some of those stock characters are better executed than others (like Mal) but it was something of a letdown when used in conjunction with everything else in the novel.
However, unlike the standard hard boiled private investigating type character who slowly becomes as bad as the people they chase, Caleb does have friends that he cares a great deal about, namely Teo. If Teo, wasn’t there I would probably have gotten bored and wandered off rolling my eyes at yet another character lamenting entropy about halfway through. She manages to smack sense into Caleb when he needs it, is willing to look for ways to help change things without getting lots of people killed, and is determined when she makes up her mind. Her flat is where Caleb goes when he has to regroup and he listens to her advice as a trusted friend.
Along similar lines, Kopil (aka the undead King in Red) was also something of a surprise. If you are looking for “undead spell wielding god killing nightmare” without that character also being a savvy businessman, someone who looks after the responsibilities of his water purifying plants, knows what it means to normal people when they stop working, and all around decent boss, then you probably need to go find some other book to read. Kopil is clearly no longer living, but he clearly hasn’t entirely forgotten the people who are still breathing.
I wasn’t particularly enamored of the pacing of this book for the first half or so, quite possibly because I get bored when confronted with a “guy meets hot girl, guy chases hot girl, guy gets hot girl” story arc that takes over most of Caleb’s brain. I know anyone can become distracted, but it’s such a worn plot path (particularly in the context of urban fantasy) that I’d like it better if the romantic subplot had been left out entirely in favor of “let’s be colleagues.” It isn’t as if the real world application to such things is prevalent or anything.
I enjoyed the later part of the novel much more as the action picked up, things fell into place and Caleb’s brain shifted into “CRAP CRAP CRAPPITY CRAP!” and “I need to fix it. Hand me the metaphysical duck tape. NOW.” Since Teo figured more significantly through the second half of the book and I have already mentioned that I thought she was awesome, that might have had something to do with liking the later part of the book more as well.
It should be noted that Two Serpents Rise is billed as the second book in a series, but I had no problem following the action or the plot. I can’t really make any comment on any links between this book and Three Parts Dead, but I can say that the setting that they share is really interesting, the characters are okay to awesome and that the plot starts out rather slow and distracted but gets much better and focused later. I ended up liking it though and it certainly was a change from my recent reading.