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Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone – audiobook review
A novel set in the addictive and compelling fantasy world of Three Parts Dead
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 to worry about than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security 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 with 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 hungry.
This review is of the audio version read by Chris Andrew Ciulla and produced by Blackstone Audio, 2013.
What I expected: I had read Three Parts Dead and enjoyed the fact that it was so different in the world building from a great deal of the fantasy works I normally read. I expected that this story would somehow be connected to the characters I had already met, though I realized that it would not be a direct follow up. I also expected some type of mystery to be solved or crisis to be fixed as a basic plot.
What I got: Well, this book only shares a world with the first one. Time, setting, and characters were all different. Now that isn’t a bad thing at all, I just wasn’t expecting it. I also got a very complex mystery with some interesting characters and all sorts of cultural upheaval dealing with different uses of magic, old gods, and new grudges.
What I liked: I really liked the characters – not only were they diverse in culture and appearance, but they were also all fully fleshed out (OK, maybe not the Red King but that was a’purpose!) and very real. I loved that the main character has a problem at work. Don’t we all?? I also liked that the plot could have been the basis of some scathing political and environmental modern day movie but that it did not feel or read that way…yet I could still see the parallels in our world.
What I did not: I really disliked the way the voice actor read the book. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the sound of his voice, and it fit Caleb to perfection, but he had a distinct tendency to over-emphasize words in every sentence that made them sound different than I would have thought they were supposed to. Obviously, I can’t read the author’s mind, and it is quite possible all of those inflections were deliberately there on his request, but I can’t help feeling that the sentences were wrongly emphasized. I’m going to call this one a listener error because, as always, your mileage may vary and that may not be something you even notice. I was also a little annoyed with the Red King character who was, essentially, a skeleton; and yet he walked without wobbling on bony heels and toes, drank coffee without spilling it all down his chin due to the missing lips, and smoked without any skin or muscles to provide the suction. That just happens to be one of those logic issues that get my personal goat. I also found the magic bits to be extremely confusing; who could do what, why, and how seemed to be a labyrinth with no easily read map. Again, ymmv.
Cover Talk: I like the cover. Not only does it stylistically match the first in the series, it is aesthetically pleasing and gives us just enough information on the story to make it intriguing.
Recommendation? If you enjoyed Three Parts Dead, you will most likely enjoy this one, but do be warned this is not a direct follow up of those previous characters – in fact, both of these books can be read as a standalone. If these weren’t set on an unknown world in unfamiliar cities, I might characterize them as urban fantasy, as they have the same detective genre feel you tend to find in the mainstream urban fantasy series of today. So, I recommend you read both books, but there is no need to read them in order. The voice actor, Chris Andrew Ciulla, has a wonderful voice that I felt fit the main character extremely well, so don’t shy away from the audio version unless it really is not your thing.