Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2) by Max Gladstone
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: October 29 2013
Source: ARC from Publisher (received at Comic Con)
In a word: A strange and dangerous world, filled with magic unlike anything you’ve read before, and beautifully written with extraordinary imagery.
The sun died, devoured by the rolling ocean. Dresediel Lex bloomed from its death, like a flower on a grave. Pyramids and skyspires cast light into darkness. The arteries of commerce glowed. In an office atop the obsidian pyramid where he once broke the gods, the King in Red sipped coffee and watched the city his power made possible, the city his radiance illuminated.
I absolutely adored Max Gladstone’s first book in his Craft Sequence, Three Parts Dead, which I read and reviewed last November (click here to read my review). But I had forgotten what a wordsmith Gladstone is. His world is full of unfamiliar words and ideas, odd creatures with sharp teeth and claws, and characters that use magic in unexpected ways. Whatever you might expect to happen as the story unfolds, prepare for the opposite. Gladstone takes ideas such as dwindling natural resources, corporate mergers, and the death of religion and turns them inside out. Two Serpents Rise pulls you under like a drug and makes you believe that anything can (and will) happen.
Caleb works for Red King Consolidated, a company that supplies water to the citizens of Dresediel Lex. Caleb is good at his job as a risk manager, but his latest challenge might be the death of him. The city’s main water supply has been poisoned with a demon called a Tzimet, and if something isn’t done to fix the problem, the desert city will die. When he meets an enigmatic and beautiful woman named Mal, he teams up with her to find out who’s behind the sabotage at Bright Mirror Reservoir. Before the water is safe to drink again, Caleb must face thirsty hoards, demons, sleeping gods, and worst of all, his own father. Caleb needs to figure out who to trust, and fast, before the precarious balance of the city is disrupted for good.
Reading Two Serpents Rise was almost a physical experience, and I have to admit at times I was exhausted after certain chapters. Gladstone is brilliant at describing how it feels to live in Dresediel Lex, a vertical city whose buildings tower above the ocean. Mal is a cliff runner, one of the daredevils who runs in races over cliffs and buildings. Some of the cliff runner sequences actually made me dizzy, they were so vividly described.
Gladstone’s magic, called “craft,” is dangerous and painful to those who practice it, and yet Caleb seems to be used to the pain. Craftsmen and women can “see” craft (which I imagine looks like beams of color lights) when they close their eyes and can even manipulate it with their hands. The people of Dresediel Lex use pieces of their souls as currency, which is a frightening concept. Each time Caleb turns on the water tap in his house, he must give up a bit of “soulstuff” as payment. Of course, just like our economic system, he gets it back whenever he works or wins at poker.
And then there are the creatures. From the tiniest rats (who are the city’s messengers, by the way!) to the largest of the sleeping gods, Gladstone has imagined a vast array of scary, beautiful, deadly, helpful and just plain odd beasts who live side by side with humans. The author describes them all in great detail, gleefully showing us each tooth and claw. Demons are trapped under the surface of the ocean. A giant god lies imprisoned while humans use his powers. And the two serpents of the title? Well, you’ll meet them in this story as well. And you may never want to go near the ocean again!
As dire as the situation is for our characters, Gladstone uses subtle humor in unexpected places to lighten the mood. Some of the funniest dialog is between Caleb and his father, Temoc, a priest who no longer has a place in the world. I loved their banter, and Temoc ended up being one of my favorite characters. I also loved the relationship between Caleb and his loyal friend Teo. Here Caleb and Teo discuss Mal, the cliff runner that Caleb can’t stop thinking about:
“I think she’s innocent.”
“I’m not. I want to help her.”
“Because she’s pretty.”
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “And pretty is not even the right word. She burns. She’s a verb.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Gladstone has cast a spell with his dark and sometimes painful prose and created a unique world that feels unfamiliar upon first glance, but whose characters are really just like us. Emerging from the world of Two Serpents Rise was like waking from a strange dream—or nightmare. When the story was over, the dream lingered, and for a moment, I couldn’t remember which world I was in.
Have you read the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead?
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