Two Serpents Rise
Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.
But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.
From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire... and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.
Just last week I finally, after quite some time read Three Parts Dead it left me speechless and blew me over. I have had this ARC of Two Serpents Rise since July but wanted to start with the first book to get to know the series from the start. If you thought that Three Parts Dead was amazing, wait till you get your hands on Two Serpents Rise!
Three Parts Dead introduced you to the first concepts and ideas of the series. Showing a new take on urban fantasy with an emphasis of lawyers an intricate legal system set with rules of Craft and linkage of several elements in the world. You also got the lay down of the necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao that can revive even gods if need be. In the first book you followed a first year apprentice Tara who was tasked with such an ordeal but found herself in a plot that went far deeper than even her bosses had imagined. Now it is always that with such a great debut, that it will be hard for a sequel to live up to. No worries there though, as Two Serpents Rise is just as cool and amazing as it predecessor.
Two Serpents Rise can in itself be read as a stand-alone, it does feature in the same day and age as Three Parts Dead but takes place in a completely different city and with different lead characters. There the occasional references to Alt Coulumb, but they aren't crucial to the main storyline of Two Serpents Rise. What is however important, or is showing to become more important are the references towards the God's War, as I mentioned in my review of Three Parts Dead this wasn't fully explored as to the reason behind it and it would have been super to have had the chance to read more of it already. Luckily now you start to glimpse more and more about it. I am curious to see how this element will unfold in the series.
The main protagonist of Two Serpents Rise is Calab Altemoc. Though his introduction was a bit of a weird one with gambling and goddesses, I think this did play an important part to directly set one thing straight about Caleb's character and that is gambling. To his fellow players he has always been known to be the gambler but with he is turning cautious... which might be linked to his profession for Red King Consolidated. For me all throughout the book Caleb is faced with several decisions that he wants to make based on solid thoughts and facts but with all the dangers and situations he is in, Caleb is only left to make a gamble. This is just so solidly put together from his job, to his personal relations with his father and friends. Caleb works for the Red King Consolidated as a risk manager, which actually aligns well with his gambler style. On contrary to Tara, Caleb is no Craftsman, but he isn't your average citizen of Dresediel Lex, Caleb has a lot to owe to his father, who has an infamous reputation. Caleb’s real "power" remains obscure in the beginning of the book but when he does start to use it is so cool. Just like Tara, Caleb is a superb protagonist and Max Gladstone shows him on many different levels, Caleb's fate is intertwined with another character of the story Mal. This relation it quite complex and even leaves Caleb clueless about what to do exactly and how to approach and tackle several subjects. Caleb is shown with his strengths that makes his character strong, but also shown with his flaws, which makes you when he fails want to pat him on the shoulder and say it will be alright. But it's not only his job and his relation with Mal that draws a specific type of humanness out of Caleb's character, it's also by his more than troubled relation with his father, the last of the Priest of the Old Gods and leader of the Quechal. There relation is twisted in a good way. On one part Caleb can shoot his father on first sight but on another level I think he desperately wants to (re-)connect with him.
Besides Caleb there are many other great characters in Two Serpent's Rise. For starters there is Mal who Caleb meets along the way when he is carrying out his investigation, but Caleb and Mal soon find themselves drawn to each other. Mal is a cliffrunner able to move lighting fast reflexes and a Craftswoman. She is on the first take quite playful towards Caleb and really is able to wind him around her finger which when looking back on the whole story is a neatly constructed part of the storyline. Mal is a character that has a certain darkness surrounding her making her motivations and actions hard to pin down in which direction they were aimed towards. Max Gladstone does drop a few hints here and there and especially in the end of the book that will stun you and throw overboard several earlier assumed things about the direction of the storyline. Other additions to the story include Caleb's father Temoc, who stays more on the background in the beginning of the story but takes a more defined and crucial role in the later part of the story, and even though he is a secondary character, Temoc is explained quite thoroughly. What he did in the past, his conviction towards the Gods and what he has done with Caleb and when you see what Temoc can do! wow. Just lastly there is The King in Red also named Kopil. Kopil is one of the most powerful Craft users alive (if you can say it in that way) who fought in the God's War. Managing to defeat the Gods, he ceased control and leadership and now resides in his skeletal body and leads the Concern of Red King Consolidated. It was great to see that one of the “Powers” took a secondary role to the story. Because now you get to learn how powerful Kopil is, but also that he still has to live by rules and regulations that are drawn in contracts. He might have great power... but that doesn't need to say much when powerful games are played on both sides involving Craft...
The story of Two Serpents Rise might seem a bit plain on the first take with problems, in particular a demonic infestations, affecting the city water reservoir, and yes on establishing the storyline there is a great amount of focus on this part. Because it is up to Caleb to find out who and why this was done. But there is also a but. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg that is being breached, as soon you find out a lot of other things that actually is linked to this demonic infestation. You are really thrown in a spiralling story, each events and action is followed up by another one and when you just thought everything was OK for Caleb and the citizens of Dresediel Lex, the story again takes a turn for the worse and the eventual bad guy is shown. The latest chapters of the book, with the final showdown and everything that is involved from describing the events with Mal, Caleb, Temoc and The King In Red are just A+ material to read. By building the story in this manner you learn much more of the world itself, the God War's, divisions of power and possibilities of continuation of the series. In the epilogue in particular there is a great discussion between The King in Red and Caleb, mentioning that several things aren't completely over just yet. This does invites a great continuation of the series.
Just like the world that was shown in Three Parts Dead with the city of Alt Coulumb, the city of Dresediel Lex is just as dynamic, and interesting to say the least. It's a beaming metropolis of unimagined proportions. There isn’t a lawsuit, lawyer, gargoyles and Justice personified this time around. But that doesn’t make Dresediel Lex any tiny bit less interesting. Instead max Gladstone creates a whole new city that has its own set of rules. Dresediel Lex isn’t ruled by a god like Kos, but is run by Red King Consolidated. The police officers are the Wardens who fly on the mythical beings of the Couatl. Similarly to Alt Coulumb, the city is run by contracts and Craft and makes it interesting to read as you should always read the little print!
Two Serpents Rise is one of those books that is over to soon. The world and the story that Max Gladstone has created is ingenious, all the ideas that surround Two Serpents Rise all come together in the end of the plot. The start up of the story really set your focus on certain aspects but in the background several other events start to unravel themselves that only build a greater story once they come to the daylight. The characters in Two Serpents Rise from the main protagonist of Caleb to secondary characters like Temoc and Kopil all feel fully fleshed out, this is how a character cast should be shown to create a great story. But I can continue on rumbling for hour about how cool Two Serpents Rise is, but you have to read it yourself. Max Gladstone knows what he does best and that is create smart, witty, ingenious and above all a very cool books. Get Two Serpents Rise!