Gladstone has invented a world where “gods” are real and where “soul” is a kind of energy that can increase, decrease, and be transferred from one person to another. People generate soul-stuff naturally over time; Gods receive soul-stuff from their worshippers, and provide comfort and services in response.
At some point in living memory, someone figured out the science and technology of soul-stuff, and everything changed. If you can manipulate soul stuff, you can manipulate gods; and gods object to this. The “God Wars” followed immediately after, and the survivors are still dealing with the fallout. Some countries still have their gods; others have converted the “corpses” of their dead gods into sources of power, heating, and so forth. Other countries are led by “undying kings”, formerly human practitioners of the Craft who have made themselves both immortal and inhuman, yet still less than gods.
The Craft that binds all of these disparate parts of the world together in a web of transactions of soul-stuff is a kind of magic, yet bears a shocking similarity to contract law.
The present book concerns the island of Kavekana, a kind of off-shore tax haven of soul-stuff. Those who would preserve their soul-stuff from the gods or undying kings of their home countries ask the priests of Kavekana to construct for them an “idol”, a personal god which can hold their excess wealth—I mean soul. These idols are mindless mechanisms, but sufficiently god-like to get their worshippers off of the hook from worshipping the gods of the countries in which they live.
But as any reader of Terry Pratchett knows, small gods become larger when worshipped….
I enjoyed this book well enough to keep reading; but Three Parts Dead remains the best book in the series. Now, this may simply be due to “middle book” syndrome. Two Serpents Rise had nothing in common with Three Parts Dead but the general setting, taking place in a different part of the world with different characters; this gave the impression that perhaps each novel would simply explore another part of Gladstone’s world. Full Fathom Five pulls in characters from both of its predecessors, which leads me to believe that Gladstone is headed somewhere in particular, though I’ve no idea where.
I expect I’ll pick up the next book when it comes out.