Book Review: Full Fathom Five

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone, Craft Sequence #3

On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World.

When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

Full Fathom Five was one of my most anticipated books for this year. Last year I started reading the Craft Sequence with Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise and was blown away. I was already familiar with the Urban Fantasy scene but Max Gladstone took it to a completely new level with his series. These first two books introduced a very cool setting and so far we have scene Craft wielding laywers, the necromantic firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, Red King Consolidated, Gargoyles, Warden on Couatl's and lets not forget Gods. Though Max Gladstone writes his books in a series, they can all be read as stand alones, each book so far has featured in a new place and with a new set of characters... BUT with Full Fathom Five, you can already see that some pieces are coming together... Just as with the first two books in the series, Max Gladstone has written another winner, good stuff I tell you. 

In the previous books, Max Gladstone showed the teeming cities of Alt Coulomb and Dresediel Lex, in Full Fathom Five he takes you again to a new place, this time around its the island of Kavekana, a tropical and exotic kind of bounty island on the first impressions. Yes a first impression. Compared to the others, Kavekana is no longer controlled by Gods, all their Gods died in the war, instead several priests control the island by their own crafted idols, God-like non-sentient beings. Just "empty" vessels for worship. The story of Full Fathom Five is divided into two main perspectives.

The first is offered by Kai Pohala, who works as a priest creating said idols. In the beginning of the book something goes wrong when Kai is making a new idol and see tries to save the dying idol by almost sacrificing herself, this leaves her injured and he boss decides for her that it is time for a leave of absence. But after her conversation with her boss and the appearance of some other people Kai start to raise questions of her own. She wants answers, and one thing is bothering her a lot. The idols that she was creating were empty vessel, non-sentient, but why did they speak to her then? I already mentioned that max Gladstone is starting to connect his stories together and in Kai's story he introduces someone from the first book, Ms. Kevarian.

The second part of the story is told from the eyes of Izza, a young girl street urchin. Izza makes her way round and about Kavekana by stealing for herself and for her fellow band of urchins, or at least she used to because she doesn't want to anymore. She has always been a thief but now that she is growing up she begins to understand that this is no longer a way that she wants to continue, because there is a law in Kavekana as well. Penitents. These are huge stone figures that carry out penitence to those who break the law. You get swallowed and locked up inside these huge things until you have been rehabilitated... When Izza finally makes the desiscion to run for it she winds up witnissing an event of a stranger fighting and winning from two Penitents, but getting seriously injured. Izza decides to help her out and so the story of Izza and Cat (doesn't she ring a bell as well) begins. Cat promises to Izza to get her of Kavekana when everything is over. However meeting up with Cat is only the start of a opening a can of worms as Izza's story of loosing her Goddess makes her story come that much more closer to what Kai went through. And you can have a sure bet if you now think that the stories of Kai and Izza will be connected. 

Again I am held amazed by the story that Max Gladstone put down in this third book of the Craft Sequence. I think many an author would have head troubles with dishing out one solid book after each other. For me a definite strength is the fact that every book has a different character cast and so far has featured different places withing the Craft Sequence universe, hereby Max Gladstone can readily introduce new bits and piece to his world and letting the story move forward. Also what got my attention was the connection with the other Craft Sequence stories, though you don't need to have read either Three Parts Dead or Two Serpents Rise I do think that it would be advisable to do so, you will come to like Full Fathom Five even more and besides they are terrific read anyway! (and frankly you should have read them already). 

What for me was slightly different compared to the earlier books was the tone and narration, not in a bad way. It is hard to say what change but I will have a try. It felt that Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise were focused on showing a very fast paced story brimming with new idea's, always moving forward. In Full Fathom Five there are also many new idea's and the story is again moving forward but the tone of the book sounds much more serious and grown up. I think this is owed to the fact that there are now links are being made between different books which, when you read them, made me as a reader stop and reflect back on the events that happened there. If this will be the continuation of the series it's definitely only going to get even better.

I already have gotten to know several great characters in the series like: Tara and Abelard and Caleb and Mal. I was very pleased with how Max Gladstone showed the characters of Izza and Kai. I went to LonCon3 this year in London and attended the panel of Full Spectrum Fantasy wherein Max Gladstone was a panel member ( Fantasy stories often rely on Kings and Queens, a merchant or two, and occasionally a guttersnipe on his way to the top. What does a fantasy world look like when it's shown from the point of view of people who aren't usually the focus: people of colour, women, anyone who isn't royalty (not even unwittingly)? Likewise, how often do we see engineers, union reps and factory workers in sf? Depicting multiple axes of human experience - a truly representative spectrum of gender, sexuality, race, class, and (dis)ability - honestly and with empathy can still be something of a radical progressive act in the world today. Which are the stories and series that attempt this, and how far do they succeed? ).  The first thing I was reminded of when I read about Kai was this panel. The same counts for Izza, she is an urchin and as you can read from the panel explanation, they usually make it into kings or queens, but this isn't the ambition of Izza, all she wants is to escape. She has had a horrid past and sought refuge on Kavekana. In their first introduction both Kai and Izza remain enigma's and for me it did feel a bit hard to connect with them. But when you read along them in their adventures and their troubles I started to feel a connection with them and they really grew on me. 

Just one last thing that I do have to mention is the world building. Max Gladstone keeps on intriguing and provoking me to think about his world. Can you say that it is a mash-up of Epic Fantasy and Science Fiction or is it pure Urban Fantasy? It has influences of all three of them. There is the Craft, the magic system in series, the huge cities that are ruled by either Gods or Kings, the technology used in the series gives the Science Fiction vibe a nice swing. But you also have the laywer business and necromantic firms that gives more of an Urban Fantasy feeling to the story. Added to this come a lot of other things like the Gargoyles, Penitents and many many others. In building his world Max Gladstone doesn't let one detail to be overlooked and his writing style readily paints those very vivid images of the scenes that take place in the book, but more over he steps over several worldy boundaries that have been set in fantasy.

In a recent guest post that Max Gladstone wrote for the blog you can find out more about how he took nonfiction as an influence to building his world 

Full Fathom Five is another winner for me and I just cannot get enough of the Craft Sequence. As I said with Two Serpents Rise these book are just over to soon. From the beginning of the Full Fathom Five I was glued to the pages and just couldn't let go. The characters really grown on you and they, as I have come to learn from the other protagonists in the series, far from your standard cardboard cut outs, Max Gladstone invests a lot of time in creating the right set of characters and showing that they grow as the story progresses

By the by, you can read a pretty cool announcement here 



  1. Max is getting better with each book in the series.

  2. Yes I totally agree Paul. Looking forward to the next two books! I also saw that Max released some short fiction on


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