Fantasy Review: ‘Two Serpents Rise’ by Max Gladstone

There has been a twitter hashtag game going strong for the last few days where people Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence, #2)have been describing movies badly. No doubt it has originated from an old Wizard of Oz description that ‘a young girl kills the first person she meets, then teams with three strangers to kill again.’   And after finishing Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise I realized how much fun I could have with this game in literature. Because on the surface this has the ability to be the most boring book of all time.   Let’s play!

Disillusioned office worker disillusioned by his father’s religion is called in to pin point the source of a water contamination. Upon satisfactory completion of the task his boss calls him in to help access the risk of the company’s latest acquisition. After the acquisition is complete the company starts to learn, too late, the consequences of the many leftover entanglements their new branch has.

Can’t you feel the excitement? But by adding a few words…

Disillusioned office worker disillusioned by his father’s religion (of live human sacrifice to the gods) is called in to pin point source of a water contamination (i.e. nasty monsters that can come right through the tap). Upon satisfactory completion of the task his boss (immortal skeleton who took down the gods) calls him in to help access the risk of the company’s latest acquisition (a company that harnesses the power of two giant snake like deities’). After the acquisition is complete the company starts to learn, too late, the consequences of the many leftover entanglements their new branch has (i.e. major destruction and possibly the breaking of the world).

That feels a bit more like it.

My love of this series is growing by the book. A world where gods are real is always a plus, and their contractual way of using and trading power is completely unique. These gods are powerful yet so vulnerable as man has in many ways caught up to them.   We first saw their power at work in Three Parts Dead as a god of fire puts his force behind running a city; in Three Serpents Rise we see the other side of things as the gods in question are harnessed against their will.

The Craft is shown again; a mixture of heavy contract law and necromancy that only makes sense if the books are read. But the way it can weave between mundane and extraordinary at a moment’s notice is a true testament to the strength of the author’s grand idea.

Truth be told I didn’t enjoy this outing quite as much as the debut but that should not suggest I didn’t love the book. I appreciate that the author isn’t just recycling ideas, I do. But with everyone in this outing actually working toward a purpose that I could possibly get behind I found myself missing a nice evil villain. Maybe I was just spoiled buy the amazingly creepy lawyer from Three Parts Dead. Fortunately the other characters of the story held up strong. The main duo had actual chemistry and I felt for them when the world acted to keep them apart. But the background cast threatened to steal the show in this one. A living skelton, the last priest of the gods who fell, even coworkers and friends lived their own lives within the larger story.

A strong second outing that has me pining for the next book already. This ‘living gods’ sub-genre is currently my favorite in fantasy; get on it before the substandard clones start showing up in mass.

4 Stars

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