Review: Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone

Two Serpents Rise is the second book in Gladstone’s “Craft Sequence”, following upon Three Parts Dead. Some hundred or so years in the past the people of Gladstone’s world learned to use the “Craft”, drawing upon the same powers as the gods. The gods didn’t approve, leading to the God Wars; and in many parts of the world the role once played by the gods is taking by “concerns”, corporation-like entities, bound by contracts, for which the flow of magic power is like the flow of money in our world.

This story takes place in the city of Dresediel Lex, once the home of a variety of Aztecan deities, but for the past eighty years the home of Red King Consolidated. Where Qet the sea-god once provided water to his people in exchanged for their worship, now RKC does the same for the city’s residents in exchange for minuscule bits of their souls. But Qet’s worshippers are not quite gone; and no truce has been declared; and Dresediel Lex is subject to frequent demonstrations against RKC. And now Bright Mirror reservoir has been infested with demons, and it’s up to Caleb Altemoc, risk manager and trouble-shooter for RKC, to find out what’s going on….

I enjoyed Three Parts Dead very much (and see my review of that book for more about the surprisingly original world Gladstone has created). I enjoyed Two Serpents Rise as well, and will certainly read any follow-on. But Two Serpents Rise is a lesser book, simpler and less surprising. Start with Three Parts Dead.

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  • Roki

    I agree with your assessment. While “Three Parts Dead” built a broad and fascinating world in which Alt Coulumb had some resonances with New York, I found that Dresdiel Lex was almost too explicitly a re-imagining of Los Angeles, with a sort of steampunk-Blade Runner vibe and a plot that followed “Chinatown” a little too closely.

    That said, it’s clear Gladstone is capable of stories with amazing vision and imagination, so I’m looking forward to his next offering.

    • Will Duquette

      Fascinating. Alt Coulumb didn’t remind me at all of New York, and Dresediel Lex strikes me as entirely unlike Los Angeles. I’d put it more like Teotihuacan imagined as a modern sea port. Yes, providing water to Los Angeles is a big deal, but that’s the only similarity I could see (and I live here).

      • Roki

        There was this little hint in “Three Parts Dead” implying that this was an alternate-universe Earth. I’d have to re-read it to find it again. Maybe I read too much into it, but I started placing locations on the map.

        The geological descriptions of Alt Coulumb reminded me vaguely of Manhattan Island. The city culture also felt rather New-York-y to me. Likewise, the geography of Dresdiel Lex (the city hemmed by mountains to the north and northeast, with luxurious beaches and some islands off the coast) combined with the water issues and the ethnic tensions brought LA to mind. I think you’re right that Teotihuacan and other meso-American sites are the architectural inspiration, but I have the impression that DL represents the northernmost reach of an ancient empire, so the LA parallels just jumped out at me.

        But, as I said, I took a tiny hint and ran with it, so I could easily be misreading all that. You find what you’re looking for, right? Now I want to re-read them to check my first impressions. Though I’m more interested in re-reading “Three Parts Dead” than “Two Serpents Rise.” The characters were more accessible in the first book than in the second.

        • Will Duquette

          I was never quite sure whether the geography was supposed to be the same as our world or not. However, I vaguely remember the continent Dresediel Lex is on as having north and south pieces, joined by a narrow stretch that was destroyed during the God Wars, so you might be on to something.