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Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
Edited by David Hartwell
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765333124
Date: 29 October 2013 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Two Serpents Rise is another tour de force by Max Gladstone set in the same world as Three Parts Dead, but with significant differences. The novel takes place in a desert city by the sea and the water supply is a constant problem. In the past, the Red King, now a skeleton but still ruling, overthrew the gods, killed, or imprisoned them. He now heads Red King Consolidated, which controls existence in the city and manages the growth and the water supply. When that supply is threatened, he calls upon Caleb Altemoc.

The old gods were worshipped by human sacrifices. Rebels want to free the old gods and destroy the Red King who eliminated such sacrifices. The old religions resembled the meso-Americans and Aztecs worship of the serpents. A popular sport, like the ball games played in ancient Mexico with stone rings and hard balls instead of modern wire hoops and basketballs, draws large audiences and continues the parallels with the old religions.

Caleb Altemoc, estranged son of the last high priest, works as a risk assessment manager for the Red King. His advice and assistance is often sought by the Red King. He has repudiated his father and abhors human sacrifice. As the high priest, his father killed many people.

The Red King sends Caleb to investigate an outbreak of bad water at a reservoir caused by Tzimet, a form of water creature that spawns nasty creatures to kill and maim. At the reservoir, he encounter a woman cliff runner named Mal. He finds her attractive and lets her escape. He does not report her presence to the Wardens, as the police are called.

The water is purified and things return to normal, but Caleb continues to search for the woman. Eventually he succeeds, but she escapes him. Much of the novel concerns his various attempts to win her notice. He learns to his surprise, she is associated with a large concern, which the Red King is acquiring, and is a signatory to the contracts binding the two companies. Contracts, as in Three Parts Dead, form tangible links that are more than signatures on paper.

The novel succeeds as an action adventure in a strange world. The writing is wonderful, but at times, it reaches too far and almost becomes hyperbole. His debut novel, Three Parts Dead, set a standard hard to match. His world in these novels is unique and well worth exploring.

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