Review: Two Serpents Rise

Posted: November 6, 2013 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Max Gladstone, Fantasy

Dresediel Lex–desert city of 16 million–is dependent on reservoirs to provide its citizens with water, so when a demon infests a crucial supply it’s Caleb who’s sent to solve the problem. While there Caleb stumbles across the wild Mal, a cliff runner in the wrong place at the wrong time who escapes before he can question her. Could she have witnessed the arrival of the demon or was her presence more nefarious?

When Caleb reports his findings to his boss, the King in Red (skeletal Craftsman, owner of  Red King Consolidated, de facto ruler of the city Dresediel Lex), he’s also tasked with figuring out the cause of the infestation. Was it a mistake or was it intentional? Fingers point to none other than Caleb’s father, the last priest of the city’s old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists. Despite his estrangement from his father, Caleb isn’t convinced it was him and decides to go looking for the missing cliff runner to find out what she saw–a task easier said than done.

What follows those dense beginning chapters of set-up reminds me of the big black pyramid that’s the heart of the city of Dresediel Lex: brick by brick Gladstone’s story builds in intensity until you’re left gasping for air by the time you reach the top.

Gladstone’s first novel, THREE PARTS DEAD (EBR Review), introduced us to this fascinating world of gods, Craftsmen, and even the cities themselves–these books are urban fantasy, legal thrillers, steampunk, and epic fantasy all rolled into one novel. TWO SERPENTS RISE (Amazon) isn’t a sequel to the first novel, but since it is set in the same world there is a sense of continuity. You don’t have to have read TPD to understand TSR, but it wouldn’t hurt and TPD is a novel worth reading.

Dresediel Lex--desert city of 16 million--is dependent on water their reservoirs to survive. When a demon infestation move in, Caleb is sent to clear it out

TPD was a debut novel, and had hardly anything for me to complain about it was so well written. Gladstone’s second novel is even better. My main complaint in TPD was the PoV issues arising from the omniscient-style narrative, but since TPR is told almost exclusively from Caleb’s viewpoint it’s a non-issue here. Also, the main character of TPD didn’t have much of a character arc, but here Caleb is a very fascinating character who struggles with the choices he’s made. He may not be a Craftsman, but his father hasn’t left him powerless; he’s full of contradictions and yet his actions make sense. I particularly enjoyed reading his conversations with his friend Teo–they’re snappy and she really makes Caleb look at himself more objectively.

Like in TPD, here the city is an important element of the story and the King in Red holds Dresediel Lex together by the skin of his teeth (if he had skin). It has its slums, its former gods and their believers who won’t give up, industries–and of course the great pyramid at the center where the King in Red does business, but where sixty years ago the priests of the city sacrificed people to satisfy their hungry gods. We follow Caleb as he goes to work, tracks Mal, and tries to do his job in a city that’s wild, dangerous, and beautiful.

The story is a complicated one with twists and turns, the novel moving forward almost effortlessly despite the mountain of information Gladstone throws at you. There were a few things that still confused me, however, because they were left unexplained, and sometimes I had a hard time following his description of important events because they were less literal and more impressionistic. Fortunately, despite these glitches, TSR was very fun to read because of its creativity and imagery. By the end Gladstone doesn’t disappoint, having spent the entire book building up to the moment when everything collides. I’m very interested in seeing Caleb’s next story.

  • Recommended Age: 15+
  • Language: Not many, maybe 5 instances
  • Violence: Some blood and gore, but infrequent
  • Sex: One scene without detail

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