Profundis: Two Serpents Rise

Caleb Altemoc is an associate risk manager at Red King Consolidated, a Craft firm overseen by a powerful, undead skeletal sorcerer. When a demonic infestation in Bright Mirror reservoir threatens the water supply of Dresediel Lex Caleb is sent in to investigate. There he encounters a mysterious woman named Mal, and his pursuit of her brings him face-to-face with power-mad witches, murdered deities, twisting plans laid thick through the years, and his own tortured past as the son of Temoc, known fugitive and the last Eagle Knight of the old Gods. Beneath it all things vast enough to tear the world asunder begin to stir.

The twin snakes Aquel and Achal have been asleep for generations. And they appear to be waking…

“Two Serpents Rise” is the second installment of Max Gladstone’s “The Craft Sequence”. It follows in the same enchanting mold as “Two Parts Dead”, wherein the forces of technology and economics are analogized as magical processes.

Desalinization is accomplished not with pumps and membranes but by running salt water through the body of the God Qet Sealord. Contracts are magically binding things and running water is paid for with bits of soulstuff.

Besides making for compelling fiction in the “urban fantasy” genre this transmogrification forces us to confront how little of our own world we really understand. The kind of high-finance trickery that set the global economy reeling in 2008 might as well be magic for all I understand it. But quotidian examples illustrate the point just as well: I doubt many people could give more than a cursory explanation of how an internal combustion engine, an air conditioner, and a desktop computer work.

The fact that we are privileged enough to be this ignorant is by and large a good thing as it facilitates one of the greatest drivers of material progress in the history of Earth: the division of labor. But it can also be a little unsettling. How much of our collective lives depend upon the operation of machinery completely unseen to us? How stable is the infrastructure upon which our world rests? If it breaks, how many of us could fix it, or even be able to comprehend a solution if one were given to us?

“Two Serpents Rise” is a more mature book than its predecessor, both in its literary expressiveness and in the depth to which it explores themes of alienation, the tension between tradition and progress, and what it means to live in a world filled with things far more powerful than any one individual. I highly recommend it, and have already ordered the rest of his books.

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