Two Serpents Rise: Officepunk

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Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone fantasy book reviewsTwo Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Two Serpents Rise is the second book by Max Gladstone and is set in the same world as Three Parts Dead. I struggle to define the “genre” that this series fits into. There are elements of urban fantasy and steampunk, but none of that really fits. It doesn’t matter because the books are awesome and Gladstone has built something that really works.

Two Serpents Rise features Caleb Altemoc, a mid-level risk management analyst for Red King Consolidated (RKC). As with Three Parts Dead, the story follows the intriguing and complex corporate connections between powerful Craftsmen, wielders of magic, and the gods. Caleb is caught in the middle of a huge incident when one of the main water supplies for the city of Dresediel Lex becomes infested with demonic parasites. This is truly catastrophic because the city is in the middle of a desert, reminiscent of Los Angeles, and the need for water grows and grows.

Caleb’s world is extremely complex. On the one hand you have the King in Red, one of the deathless monarchs who overthrew and slew many of the gods who ruled the world. In the 50 or so years since the regime change, RKC has become one of the major players in the city’s utilities market. So, water is the ultimate commodity because no water means no life and RKC, through many layers and layers of contract, is bound to provide water. Failing to meet the contractual obligations means draining the life force of the King in Red, the quasi-CEO and tyrant of the city.

Commodities in this world become ever more complex because the currency that is used is “soul stuff” —  very small amounts of one’s soul can be passed to another. The process for this transfer is never well defined, but one can save parts of one’s soul in a bank, gamble it in a hand of cards, or even use it to pay for a flight across the city. Souls are a valuable commodity and it’s not just in a good and evil sort of fashion. It makes for a very compelling aspect of the story because characters have to consider how much of their soul they’re willing to trade away and for what.

As Caleb investigates the contamination of the reservoir, he comes into contact with a Cliff-runner named Mal. Cliff-running is something like Parkour except that the heights and distances that the proficient are able to cover are magically enhanced. The thrill of running across powerlines or into prohibited areas only adds to the rush the runner gets. Mal is Caleb’s best witness to the act of sabotage and tracking her down and earning her trust is his paramount mission. To do this, while protecting her from the authorities who might otherwise dissect her spirit to get answers, adds to the complexity of Caleb’s already difficult task.

Two Serpents Rise has many interesting aspects ranging from justification for human sacrifice to complex political maneuvering between adherents of the gods and the impossibly powerful Craftsman who have overthrown them. Much of the story seems set around the ancient Aztec and/or Mayan cultures and their honoring/satiating of the gods through human sacrifice. Caleb’s ties to the gods and those who still follow them is yet another wrinkle to follow.

Two Serpents Rise was a great read. After Three Parts Dead I was already pretty convinced that Max Gladstone could spin quite a yarn, but Two Serpents Rise was just as good, which is impressive for a second book. I highly recommend that fans of urban fantasy and steampunk give this series a try.

~John Hulet

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsJohn said he didn’t know what genre Max Gladstone’s CRAFT stories fit into. I agree, so I’m going to coin my own term here: officepunk. The heroes of both novels so far have been employees of big corporations. There’s lots of typical office imagery — pinstripe suits, desks, clipboards, business meetings and contracts — but there’s also zombie armies, flying insect taxis, poker games as acts of worship, soul money, demonic parasites, and enslaved gods.

Gladstone’s world is such a strange blend of the familiar and exotic that I had trouble settling into it in his first CRAFT novel, Three Days Dead. I never knew what to expect, which made anything seem possible, so it felt like there were no “rules” and some of the major events seemed slightly arbitrary. This second CRAFT book, Two Serpents Rise stands alone but is set in the same world, so it felt a little more comfortable than the previous story.

Caleb, our protagonist, is a businessman who works as a risk manager for a company that supplies his desert city’s water. When he discovers that demons infest the water supply and that some angry ancient gods may soon be unleashed on the city, he has to find some way to save it. A pretty athlete may be a witness, but if Caleb wants to learn what she knows, he has to catch her first.

As John mentioned, a major theme of this novel is sacrifice. What would a good person be willing to sacrifice for others? When is it okay for a few people to be sacrificed for the greater good? What is our duty to our fellow humans? Do small sacrifices of our moral beliefs put us on a slippery ethical slope?

I read Two Serpents Rise on audio which was produced in 2013 by Blackstone Audio and read by Chris Andrew Ciulla. The title is 12.5 hours long. Ciulla did a great job with the narration — he’s got a pleasant voice and a nice cadence. I liked this narrator better than the narrator for Three Parts Dead and I’d recommend it.

I’m not sure what’s coming next in Gladstone’s CRAFT series. Book three, which releases next summer (and has a really awesome cover), is called Full Fathom Five. If we add the “Three” and the “Two” from the titles of the first two novels, we get “Five.” This makes me think that perhaps Caleb will team up with Tara, the protagonist of the first novel and they’ll work together on the project Caleb proposes at the end of Two Serpents Rise. I’d like to see that.

~Kat Hooper

Publication date: October 29, 2013. 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.

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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Officepunk! I so need to read this series. Demons are the best explanation for some of the copier issues I’ve dealt with, to be sure.

  2. That is a nice theory! I wold like to see Tara again but I think the author said that we will be seeing Cat again in FULL FATHOM FIVE. I interviewed him recently (it goes live tomorrow) and I think thats who he said we’d see again. Either way I think I will love the next book because I’ve seriously enjoyed the first two. I also listened to the first on audio and really enjoyed it though I didn’t listen to the second.

    • Tabitha, thanks for letting us know about the interview — I’ll take a look. Have you seen the cover for Full Fathom Five? It’s really gorgeous. I liked Cat, too. Not surprising that he’d use that character again — she’s unique.


  1. Thoughtful Thursday (giveaway!): What splinters are stuck under your fingernails? | Fantasy Literature: Fantasy and Science Fiction Book and Audiobook Reviews - […] We’re pleased to once more welcome Max Gladstone, author of the excellent CRAFT series. Max is here to talk…

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