I’ll be honest, I don’t read a lot of books by male authors who aren’t Jim C. Hines or Terry Pratchett except on occasion. It’s not that i have anything against dudes, I’m just so sick and tired of fantasy fiction written by dudebros where every female character is either barely there or sexualized as all hell or both–not that authors of all genders are immune to this–and I just don’t have the patience for more Jim Butchers or Kevin Hearnes and the like.
That said, Max Gladstone now has a spot as one of my favourite writers.
Two Serpents Rise is the sequel to Three Parts Dead, but while it takes place in the same universe, it doesn’t share anything else in common with the previous book. Our protagonist is Caleb Altemoc, gambler and professional risk manager for Red King Consolidated, the Concern that basically keeps the desert city of Dresediel Lex running, but shadow demons infesting the city’s water supply is the least of Caleb’s worries as he is quickly drawn into a high stakes game involving ancient gods, cliff running, and complicated legal contracts.
I’m in a weird position when it comes to talking about the characters because this is one book where i didn’t particularly like the main character. Next to someone like Tara from the last book, Caleb comes across as kind of….average….even the cover art gives that impression (although I don’t know why there’s a white boy on the cover since my impression based on his father’s skin colour is that he’s either black or brown like the majority of characters in Dresediel Lex) and he spends much of the book acting like a lovesick puppy. Fortunately, the book has some great secondary characters like Teo, one of Caleb’s friends who happens to be a lesbian, his father, Temoc, last priest of the old gods and wanted terrorist, Mal, a mysterious cliff runner Caleb is trying to protect from the authorities (and the reason he acts like a lovesick puppy) and the King in Red, the imposing figure who keeps the city running after killing most of its gods. Caleb might be the POV character, but I found that the characters around him really stole the show. Even characters who only show up in a couple scenes (like Four, a Warden, or Sam, Teo’s girlfriend) manage to leave an impression. In comparison to the first book, I found the second book had less of that “what the hell is going on?” sort of feeling, but you still might find yourself a little lost at times., and although you might see the twist coming, it’s the sort of twist where the reader screams at the characters to stop but can only watch as the narrative unfolds, so even though I saw it coming, I can’t say I was disappointed by it.
In terms of representation the dominant Quechal population in Dresediel Lex seem to be brown, although I was under the impression that Caleb’s father was black. In terms of queer representation, there’s Teo, Sam and the Red King himself, and although the main cast doesn’t really bat an eye, Teo still encounters homophobia and sexism and the Red King confronts religiously-motivated homophobia at the macro level in his back story.
In terms of triggery content there’s an instance of self-harm and as a polytheist I was a little disturbed by some of the scenes involving the old deities (when the narrative says that the Craftspeople killed them, they mean that literally) but that’s just my personal squick. The book also has a fantastical slur (“altar maid”) which is used against queer women, but no real world slurs. Some might also be disturbed by the scene discussing Sam’s art (involving snakes eating each other).
Overall, I loved Two Serpents Rise and actually found it to be superior to the first book in almost every way apart from the main character (Caleb is nice but kind of dull). If you were a fan of the first book, absolutely pick this one up. If you’re new to the series, this book is set in an entirely different location than the first book, but you might still want to pick up Three Parts Dead just to bring yourself up to snuff. I have some more reviews to get to but I’m really looking forward to Full Fathom Five.