Two Serpents Rise Readalong Week 3

Posted April 27, 2015 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books / 8 Comments


Banner by Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings

Welcome back to the third week of the readalong for Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise! Let me repeat the schedule for you all. ^_^

1st Post Date: April 13th Book 1: chapter 1-Interlude: Fire, hosted by Dab of Darkness
2nd Post Date: April 20th Book 2: chapter 16-Interlude: Dreams, hosted by Over the Effing Rainbow
3rd Post Date: April 27th Book 3: chapter 29-Interlude: Tea, Hosted by Violin in a Void
4th Post Date: May 4th Book 4: chapter 36-Epilogue, hosted by Little Lion Lynnet’s

As you can see, this week’s questions are courtesy of Lauren from Violin in a Void. And, as always, this is week 3 of a book so there are spoilers galore.

1. After the fight at Seven Leaf, Caleb apologises to Mal and they finally start dating. What do you think of the way their relationship has developed? Do you agree with Mal that Caleb chased her because he needs gods in his life?

I think Gladstone’s way of writing their relationship is one that completely fails to connect with me. Sorry! But I really need characters to develop an emotional connection between one another and Gladstone just isn’t managing it with Mal and Caleb for me.

Since this section is so largely about Mal and Caleb getting together and sorting out some of those differences, the net result is that I just plain don’t like this section as a whole. I’d probably have loved it if they’d been cast as friends, but as romantic partners? It just doesn’t work for me and leaves me cold and indifferent.

And the ending of book 3 before the interlude? Lacks any impact at all because there’s nothing for me to connect to in terms of their relationship. I’m mildly curious, but I put the book down to go to sleep whereas with Three Parts Dead I struggled to stick to the schedule in the third week. (And by ‘struggled with’ I mean ‘failed spectacularly and finished it in one go because I could not put it down’.)

I AM SO SAD! I want to like this book. I liked Mal and Caleb in the first book. I was wary of their relationship, but it wasn’t yet at a point where it wouldn’t work for me at all. (And it’s possible to write lust-based/lust-started relationships in a way that works for me.) I love the action in the second book and the fight at Seven Leaf. I’m thoroughly enjoying the setting. I heart Teo and the way her friendship with Caleb is such a big part of his life. I actually really liked the way he apologised to Mal and the awkwardness with which that conversation happened. I liked seeing how the King in Red was affected by the events in Dresediel Lex/the preparations for the festival. (Though, did we hear about the eclipse happening before now? I forget.)

But this section? Only works for me if I take out the romantic subplot. T_T

2. This section has been quite philosophical. Where do you stand on the debate – gods, no gods, or some kind of compromise? Do you agree with Caleb’s idea of sacrificing your morality because the religious alternative is even worse?

Philosophical is a good way to describe this section, yes. That’s also part of why Mal/Caleb doesn’t work for me. The undercurrent of their emotions in this isn’t strong enough. Anyway! That’s not actually an answer to this question, so moving on.

I stand nowhere on the debate. Well, no, that’s not true. I probably would look at some kind of compromise if it were possible to reach one. One thing we haven’t seen, I think, is an answer to the question of why the gods need blood specifically. (We can infer, I think, that it’s not so much ‘blood’ but ‘life’ and/or possibly something special that only exists from sacrifice. If the latter, we could speculate that involuntary sacrifices are better because they fight back and thus have more life to offer the gods. Or that giving up one’s life willingly strengthens whatever it is the gods get and make that the better option. Or… something.) If it’s not blood that they need, couldn’t they look into alternatives? If it’s life that they need, couldn’t they look at alternatives? Dresediel Lex is a big city. Couldn’t the gods do what they do with souls and take a little bit from all the millions living there instead of everything from a single individual?

Honestly, though, it’s a really tough question to think about because it’s one of those cases where there are no good answers. There’s just a question of which answer is the least apprehensive to an individual. And I have to answer for that.

Mal and Caleb are clearly still on alternate sides of the discussion, but hopefully they understand each other a little better now.

3. Gladstone is still unveiling amazing things in his world, like a sport based on myth, the eclipse festival, walking on water, and a half-dead sea god whose heart is being used for desalination. What interested you the most?

Possibly the sea god, partially because the idea is one that I’d never thought of. It doesn’t come entirely unexpected because Caleb’s alluded to something before, which the eclipse festival did. The myth-based sport doesn’t seem to have much plot resonance at the moment, so while it’s yay world-building and happy-making to see, it’s also not where my attention is really focused at the moment. It’s more Caleb/Teo friendship-bonding and a way to remind us/reintroduce the Hero Sisters before the grand finale. It’s an interesting sport and I really like the way Gladstone introduced it, but at this point I’m more interested in puzzling out the plot. I suspect it’s one of those situations where rereading the book will make it stand out in more detail. The water-walking is similar, except I can see that coming back to affect the characters more easily and it’s a way to get a cameo for Xiltande (Xiltandu?) into the story. Which was pretty neat. And I liked the hints at events in other places too.

4. Mal has noted twice that they don’t have much time, and she apologises to Caleb while he sleeps on the ocean. Then Alaxic kills himself and tries to kill Temoc – the last two priests of the old Quechal. What do you think is going on here? Any speculation about how it might turn out?

Maybe Mal is working for Temoc and what we’ve been discussing over his waiting for something to happen to Caleb is set in motion? I suspect the last section is going to open big and recapture my interest, but plotwise… I’m afraid I can’t really think of anything short of “The twin serpents are going to wake up and cause havoc and Mal knows it and hasn’t done anything much to stop it because reasons”. Oh, and obviously there’d be a grand attempt to save Dresediel Lex and the people in it. Maybe, if the old ways are supposed to die, Alaxic means for the sea god to die too and Dresediel Lex to disappear beneath the sea like those other cities we heard about and saw very briefly. Maybe, the book will end with Temoc and Caleb being the only ones who can save the city because they still know the old Quechal ways. Maybe Alaxic wants the priesthood to be revived under Caleb. His stance would certainly make for an entirely different priesthood from Temoc’s, after all, whilst still having the ability to cling to less gruesome important parts of Quechal beliefs because he was raised in them.

This section has seen Caleb remember bits of prayers he’s tried to forget and that moment when he swears to the gods and didn’t realise it seems particularly important if I’m in any way right with my guessing. And… yes.

I’m actually really late as it stands, so my apologies for cutting it short and running. tl;dr version: Not very impressed with this section on this first read, but I suspect I’ll like it more on a reread and I’m pretty excited to see how everything plays out.


8 responses to “Two Serpents Rise Readalong Week 3

  1. Sorry to hear the romantic element isn’t working for you. I feel like their relationship is broken from the beginning an yet I enjoy watching them struggle to make it work anyway. I’ve been there and done that, so maybe that is why I can relate to the romance here.

    I like your idea of the gods taking blood/life in another way – the soul stuff. The citizens already pay in soul stuff for everything else, so if they were taxed yearly in order to feed the gods, it wouldn’t be unusual. But would the gods accept soul stuff?

    It would be something if Dresediel Lex ended up in the sea! A whole city sacrificed to the sea gods. I wonder if the serpent sisters wold be jealous?

    • No worries. It happens from time to time. I think we’re all pretty clear on the fact that their relationship is supposed to be broken. The book just doesn’t give me what I need to feel like I get why they’re trying to make it work in the first place. I’m glad you’re having a much better experience with it! ^_^

      And, if the gods did accept soul stuff, how would you make sure that it worked properly? We already know that overstretching can literally mean death, so that would be something you’d have to look at very carefully, especially as this wouldn’t be much of a choice for the citizens, when it absolutely is for the gods and Craftspeople we see making those contracts and deals.

      It’d certainly put them asleep for a very long time!

  2. I really like Lauren’s point that Caleb and Mal dating gives the author a clear route to discuss certain things that would otherwise involve info dumping. Like you, I’m not feeling their relationship – I can’t really put my finger on it. There’s too much secrecy, it’s based on false foundations, Mal is clearly working against what Caleb stands for – and yet Caleb also has doubts about the current system, and there’s just an overall feeling that Mal is calling the shots somehow which makes me think it’s too unbalanced. She clearly wants to believe that he chased after her because he wants the same things she does but that’s not necessarily the case.

    I also think that people should be able to donate a little soul – surely it’s not necessary to have a full sacrifice?

    We’ll see. I’m hoping for some revelations to clear it all up.
    Lynn 😀

    • I really really hope that their dating is more than a way to open up a discussion because it wouldn’t be necessary. The discussion would work just as effectively if they were just friends.

      Mmm, that’d depend on why the sacrifice is necessary, perhaps? Ria made some really fascinating points about the nature of sacrifice.

      I’m sure we’ll get those. I’m hoping we’ll get another epic conclusion. <3

  3. 1. It was only in this section that I could really start imagining these two as a couple. I haven’t been feeling any chemistry between them at all, but conversation is a big part of intimacy and attraction for me, so the fact that Mal and Caleb started having in-depth discussions helped a lot. You’re right though, it might have been more believable if they were just friends. Unless perhaps Gladstone intended for them to be a bad couple? Maybe Caleb did just chase after Mal because he’s missing something in his life

    I also wondered if we’d heard about the eclipse before now! I was too lazy to go back and check, but if we didn’t, I’d call that a sloppy bit of writing.

    2. You just made me wonder if they start dating partly so that Gladstone could write this debate into their conversations…

    But good point about sacrifice! Why is a human sacrifice better than people donating bits of soul? Maybe the regular soul donations/sacrifices could be the kind of compromise Mal wants, although that would make for a dull ending.

    4. Mal working for Temoc? I hadn’t thought of that. Hmm…

    • I’m glad it worked better for you than it did for me. ^_^ Conversation is usually a decent chunk of what makes a romantic plot work for me, but it didn’t here. I was thinking it was only the fact that the discussions we’ve seen in this book have tended to be philosophical and intellectual in nature rather than having strong emotional ties — that’s not entirely true either way; we already know the topics are ones Mal and Caleb feel strongly about — but then Lynn mentioned that their relationship also seems to be built on a misunderstanding and… I think that helps as well. It doesn’t work for me because there’s nothing for me to glom onto. And the next section will tell us whether that’s because of the way their relationship develops or whether there just genuinely isn’t anything to glom onto in the way that I need for a relationship to work.

      I looked it up now and he does mention it fairly early on in chapter 1 and again late in chapter 29. It’s been mentioned, but not very often. Considering how important a full solar eclipse seems to be to the city’s culture and festival, I’d have liked it to have a little more presence before book 3. But they’ve also been a bit preoccupied, so it also makes sense that it hasn’t come up again once things started to go spectacularly wrong.

      I’d actually really like it if Caleb and Mal turned out to be a bad couple. (As opposed to a fake couple or a “would’ve been a real couple if only they weren’t on opposite sides of the plot” couple.) I don’t think I’ve seen a bad couple in fiction before. At least not as the main romantic plot.

      Maybe the regular soul donations/sacrifices could be the kind of compromise Mal wants, although that would make for a dull ending.

      Why would it be dull for you? *curious*

      4. Mal working for Temoc? I hadn’t thought of that. Hmm…

      It’d be one explanation for why she apologised at the end of that chapter at least. To be honest, I’m not even sure what direction I want the story to go in. Do you know where you’d like it to go?

      • I would have like the eclipse to have been a bit more prominent too, although if it doesn’t turn out to be central to the plot, then I guess it’s ok. At the moment it seems like a distraction, giving Mal and Caleb some time off to check out Bay Station and have sex on the ocean with fireworks 🙂

        “Why would it be dull for you? *curious*”
        Purely because it seems like such a simple, obvious solution. Instead of killing thousands of people, lets have soul tax! Well duh, thanks for that. Perfectly fine in real life, but in a fantasy novel I’d prefer something clever and surprising.

        “Do you know where you’d like it to go?”
        Like you, I’d also enjoy it if Caleb and Mal turned out to be a bad couple. I already think they’re a bit of a crappy couple, and I’d like there to be a good reason for that, as opposed to it just being lacklustre. Also, I enjoy it when authors steer away from the norm.

        I think it’d be cool if Mal is revealed to be the mastermind behind a revolutionary plot to change the way the city functions, as opposed to just being Alaxic’s agent. Might also be fun if Mal turns out to be working with Temoc, although I’m still not convinced that he’s directly involved.

        • Glad I’m not the only one who’d want it to have a little more prominence. ^_^ I don’t mind it being a distraction for Caleb and Mal to get some time off. It’s been a pretty hectic book so far, so having a bit of calm is a treat. The last book is probably going to pick up on the pacing again, after all.

          Purely because it seems like such a simple, obvious solution. Instead of killing thousands of people, lets have soul tax! Well duh, thanks for that. Perfectly fine in real life, but in a fantasy novel I’d prefer something clever and surprising.

          Fair point! Though we’ve seen Gladstone go for the obvious before, so I’m not going to rule it out entirely as a possibility. Plus, he’s managed to make what a lot of people would fnd very dull into something super-exciting, so even if he did go for this route, it might not be quite as obvious as it seems?

          I already think they’re a bit of a crappy couple, and I’d like there to be a good reason for that, as opposed to it just being lacklustre.

          Mmm, they’ve got some pretty big differences in their beliefs, though. Given how intractable they both are in Book 3, I’m not sure it’s one they could conceivably work past. Not long-term, anyway.