Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Do not ignore dreams. They are a line from the past to the future. All nightmares are real.”

Two Serpents Rise Cover

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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.

3.5 STARS

CW: gambling, drug use, animal death, gore, body horror, self-harm, loss of a loved one, sex scene

After being blown away by Three Parts Dead and the promise of a broader, more complicated world, I was so excited to start Two Serpents Rise. There was a deeper dive on the horizon, more worldbuilding to sink my teeth into, new characters!

But this time, I wasn’t half as engaged, which really is a shame. I went in expecting the series to build on what it started, and found myself staring down an interesting plot with characters I didn’t have a lot of fondness for.

That’s not to say Two Serpents Rise was entirely a bad book. It’s more so that it didn’t have the right elements to keep me invested, and in this case, it didn’t have the right characters. At first, I really liked Mal and Teo, but then Mal’s choices put me off, and Teo didn’t get nearly enough page time (listen, she’s a self-sufficient cat lady lesbian and I liked her enough to want her on the page more). And Caleb, our star character, just…lacked conviction on some things, but wouldn’t budge on others, making him a bit of a waffler in my eyes. I couldn’t root for him when he sat so deep in indecision or inflexbility with no in between, and he didn’t have any particular character traits that leaped out at me and made me attached.

On the flipside, the worldbuilding continues to have that Craft Sequence hallmark of being expansive and deep. Dresediel Lex is clearly based on Aztec culture, especially when the names of many characters are considered, as well as the landmarks and gods most associated with the city. It has a deep economic role in the world, along with an environmental role more bad than good, and for a hot second, the book attempted to dig into issues of economy, environment, and the effect of colonialism on the two (though it didn’t really get very far with that line of thought).

We also get more of the God Wars (though not a direct line to it), and we also catch glimpses of the other major powers in the world. I did catch a reference to the Aeneid, reworked gently to become the root of the land of Telomere, and we’re finding out little bits and pieces more about how the major power centers of the world relate to one another.

And as always, I love how much the gods are involved in human lives, even in a city that has sworn off gods after the God Wars. It’s an interesting look at the uses and abuses of power, and the way power flows or gets redirected. Add to that the fact that gods can be killed, and yet can also be resurrected, and it’s a very curious system I’m eager to see more of.

I realize, though, that I want the future books to improve on queer representation. While we do have a sapphic couple in this book, the only other rep is a character who lost his partner and has carried out violence in the name of revenge. There’s little sign elsewhere in the world of queer characters beyond the sidelined lesbian best friend, and the maybe-antagonist-maybe-supporting-figure gay boss. It’s something, to at least have these characters explicitly on the page, but they felt lacking in depth, and I would have wanted more visible queerness beyond two figureheads that aren’t actually at the forefront of the story.

Overall, I still liked reading Two Serpents Rise, and I’m eager to continue with the Craft Sequence, but this was not the explosive, gripping read that Three Parts Dead was. I’m hoping I’ll be able to chalk it up to largely personal preference, but we’re going to have to see what happens as I progress through the series.

8 thoughts on “Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

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