Full Fathom Five (Craft Sequence #3) by Max Gladstone
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: July 15 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A world that shimmers with magic, female characters that do wonderful and impossible things, and a layered story that will keep you riveted.
They fell through space and worlds, following that unseen beacon. They did not slip from realm to realm so much as burst through. The color of the sea changed, wine-red and spreading. Constellations danced and transformed.
The volcano’s mouth approached. At its bottom, pinhead small but growing larger, lay the pool, another sky into which they could fall forever. The size of a cherry now, a fig, lemon orange apple pineapple watermelon—
She braced herself for impact, too late.
This is the third book in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, and as much as I loved the last two books, I think this may be his best yet. Each book in this series can easily stand on its own, so reading the first two books first isn’t necessary—but why would you want to miss out on them? Gladstone’s world is full of gods and idols, sea monsters and Craftswomen, nightmares and pools where you can remake yourself. Each detail is painstakingly melded into the story so that you feel as if you are right there with the characters. Things that we are all too familiar with—job security, market shares, salesman-client relationships—are cheekily disguised as fantasy elements, which makes them much more interesting.
In Full Fathom Five, idols are molded and created by the Order for pilgrims. But when Kai, a priest with the Order, witnesses the death of an idol named Seven Alpha, she makes a risky decision to jump into the pool to try to save her. But Kai nearly dies in the rescue attempt and is later fired by her boss for attempting something so risky. It is only after she meets a street kid named Izza and a poet named Margot that Kai realizes Seven Alpha’s death is only part of a much bigger scheme. With her friends, new and old, to help out, Kai must get to the bottom of what’s really happening to the idols, keep her distance from the murderous Penitents, and try to get her old job back, before anyone else dies.
The biggest surprise for me this time around was the fact that most of the main characters in Full Fathom Five are women. In fact, just about every male in the story is a side character or a bad guy. Not that I don’t love me some strong male characters, too, mind you, but it was a nice change of pace to see a male writer taking the time to create such interesting, strong and utterly human female characters, who are all flawed in one way or another, yet possess the strength to rise above those flaws. I think my favorite character was Izza, a fifteen-year-old thief who is distraught when her goddess the Blue Lady dies. Izza takes care of a rag-tag group of street kids who look up to her to tell them stories about the Blue Lady and restore their faith in the world—much like Wendy Darling telling tales to the Lost Boys.
I also loved Kai, who nearly dies from trying to save Alpha Seven, yet never gives up hope that she will figure out the truth of what’s going on. We also have two characters who make a return appearance from Three Parts Dead, Mrs. Kevarian and Cat (who along with vampire Raz was my favorite character of that book). Unfortunately, Raz is nowhere to be found in this story, but that’s ok, because all the other characters are so amazing. Each woman goes through pain (and sometimes torture), loss and disappointment, yet never do they lose their faith in the gods and idols they worship.
Gladstone’s brilliant writing skills are hard at work, as usual. His lush and poetic prose is one of the things that keeps drawing me back to his books, and it just gets better and better. And as far as the world-building goes, you don’t get much better than this. The island city of Kavekana (think Honolulu, Hawaii) is completely different from ours, yet there are moments of odd familiarity, like when Kai stops at a corner store to buy frozen yogurt. At its heart, this is a mystery story, as Kai tries to figure out who is killing the island’s idols. The pace is not the rip-roaring action-packed sort, but rather the slow-building kind that surprises you when you realize you’re in the middle of some desperate action and you can’t pinpoint exactly when you got there.
The scary monsters this time around are the Penitents, gigantic human-shaped creatures made of stone that patrol the city and keep order. The kicker, however, is that their bodies act as prisons for the city’s criminals, humans who have been caught and placed inside a Penitent, where their bodies and wills are bent to perform the duties of a Penitent, until their sentence is over and they are released. What a truly terrifying way to be punished!
The ending was perfect, and I wasn’t expecting to tear up like I did. But Gladstone hit all the right notes, both emotional and plot-wise, and I couldn’t imagine a better ending. Whether or not another Craft Sequence book is in the works remains to be seen, but I for one certainly hope Max isn’t done with this fabulous world.
Many thanks to Tor Books for providing a review copy. I was not compensated in any way and all opinions in this review are mine and mine alone. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
Check back later this week, because Max himself will be stopping by with a guest post!
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