Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone. ★★★★
Two Serpents Rise is the second in the Craft Sequence, but the series can be read in any order – evidenced by the fact that I read the first and third before I got around to Two Serpents Rise.
Sixty years ago, the city of Dresediel Lex was liberated (or “liberated,” depending on what side you’re on) from its gods by magic users known as Craftsmen and Craftswomen. These victors set about running the city through the creation of Concerns – legal entities that are much like supernatural corporations heading usually by deathless kings. Enter Red King Consolidated, the massive Concern that now takes care of the needs of Dresdiel Lex, such as providing water to a city in the middle of a desert.
That’s where the trouble starts, for the water is suddenly infested with demons. It’s up to Caleb Altemoc – a risk manager at RKC – to find out where the demons came from. Where they a freak accident, or something more sinister?
The huge strength of this book was the world building. Dresediel Lex is a city shaped around a loosely Aztec culture and mythology, but one that is in modern times and undergoing globalization. Combine that with magic users who seem a lot like lawyers, necromancy, and the undergoing struggle between the faithful and the Craftsmen and you get Dresediel Lex. It is in a word, awesome.
While the liberation of Dresediel Lex may have happened sixty years ago, it’s at the forefront of Two Serpents Rise. While the majority of citizens seem to have accepted the new state of things, the True Quechal wish to restore the gods, and they are known to use terrorist tactics to work towards their goal. This is especially notable as Caleb’s father is Temoc, the last priest of the Quechal gods and a leader of the True Quechal. Caleb’s relationship with his father played in at numerous parts of the book and was very interesting to read about, even if I did end up disliking Temoc.
Caleb was not a particularly interesting narrator, but I didn’t dislike him or find him annoying either. The two characters who stood out the most where probably Teo – Caleb’s lesbian best friend who remained consistently awesome – and the Red King, who is completely fascinating.
While I overall enjoyed Two Serpents Rise, it is not the strongest book in the series. Pick it up if the specifics interest you, but otherwise I would recommend starting with Three Parts Dead or Full Fathom Five. I would suggest this series to people who know they like fantasy and are looking for good world building and diverse characters.
You may also want to check out this interview with Max Gladstone on Two Serpents Rise, which goes into detail about his thought process behind much of it.