Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Original Review:Oct 2014
Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
I saw an ad and some comments about Max Gladstone and this book and decided to read the sample. The sample intrigued me and drew me into Max's strange world of magic quickly enough that I knew I'd be picking this one up for my library. The writing style is so unique and compelling I overlooked the fact that I felt like I was being dropped into the middle of a world I knew nothing about and expected to flounder around in. So before purchasing this book I took note that he had two others in the same world and decided I might do well to purchase those also and read them in order. This turned out to be quite fortuitous, but not in the way I had hoped. I love the writing and the whole idea of Max Gladstone's world of magic with its complexity, but it sometimes can be a rather difficult read because the world building is the type that sort of trickles in slowly as the characters in the world reluctantly reveal the world's story to the reader.
Full Fathom Five can stand alone as a novel as can both Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. Each novel takes place in a different city in a world where magic is used as currency and the flow of magic can deplete or replenish an individual depending on which end of the flow they are. The novels take place in a time after a great war against the gods and now we have people trying to prove they can exist without the gods. Though the gods seemed oppressive and in need of being deposed, it becomes clear early that those who deposed them might be just another evil and somewhere within all of that are the flawed but heroic characters who are trying to honorably mark out their existence within the new system. The players in the first two books seem to be separate groups and only in the third book does the reader see some crossover of characters from the first two, with mostly the name of cities and deposed gods being a factor to previously tie the books together.
The magic and the rules of magic in the world are always quite clear but the world itself can often seem enigmatic in many ways, but as I read this I began to get a sense of why. It seemed for me that the world itself was a world that was being built within the characters. The very way that the magic linked the people with each other and with their existence and the notion that for many of the people the magic is drawn from each other and then from the stars.
In a world where man has waged war against gods and put down many there are still cities that make use of their gods as it is in Three Parts Dead the city of Alt Coulumb is still powered mostly by the fire of the Lord of Flame, Kos until the day Kos is murdered and Tara Abernathy, a new intern of the Craft firm of Kelethras, Albrecht and Ao, is sent to investigate. This is a world where those with the greatest power, the Deathless Kings rule, and that power the craft exacts a price and though they live long they wither away to a skeletal existence. Many of those would strive to be like the gods and be rid of the old gods while some search for a mutual existence and firms like Kelethras Albrecht and Ao can resurrect a god under certain conditions; though the god will never be quite the same.
There are still priests who used to sacrifice to the gods and in Two Serpents Rise Caleb is the son of one such priest; Caleb works for Red King Consolidated, his job is to help keep the gods and their demons under control, which puts him at odds with his father. Caleb recalls too many of those sacrificed by his father to ever want to go back to that. But someone is trying to subvert things in Dresediel Lex; and Caleb must find out if it's his priestly father or some other subversive faction before it's too late.
In Kavekana of Full Fathom Five they make idols for their clients. Not the usual kind but those that can store the soul magic of their clients and act almost like a stock market for magic. But the idols can die if their magic is extended too thin and when a friends project is targeted for termination[the Idol is dying] Kai makes one desperate attempt to help her friend and the Idol; out of the belief that the Idol shouldn't be dying. The attempt goes poorly and Kai is injured badly and her career with the company is in danger. But in that brief moment of contact with the Idol when she nearly lost her life she saw something that will shake up her life more than the loss of her career. Along with the indigent Izza, who still worships gods, Kai is about to uncover something sinister about the Idols and supposedly dead Gods.
Max Gladstones protagonists in all of these stories are strong willed, honor bound and in many ways strangely flawed. The richness of each of these characters brings the reader closer to the world in which they live. But it takes a lot of attention to the details and descriptions to grasp that world and it's not always clear that the protagonists are doing the right thing though they are always doing it with the strong conviction and, even when they shy away from being martyrs, they end up positioning themselves to make a sacrifice because of their own strong sense of honor.
This is epic fantasy but in many ways for me it read as a literary epic that focuses on character more than setting and though some might find that to be a deficiency I love the character driven novels above all else so if a reader loves those stories about well crafted strong characters they will love this series of books and if they appreciate good prose they will drink these down or sip them slowly to their own tastes.
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