Welcome back to the fourth and final week of the readalong for Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise! As it’s the last week (and I’m hosting the questions), there’s no schedule post this time. We’re onto the final section of the story and wow was that a ride!
Below the cut will lie my answers to the questions I posed and MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF SPOILERS. It’s a lot easier to think of questions than it is to answer them too!
1. I think we all pegged Mal for involved with whatever is going wrong in Dresediel Lex after the way Book 3 ended last week. How do you feel about discovering how deep that involvement goes?
I loved it! I was sort-of expecting her to be knee-deep in it, but I was entirely off the track with Alaxic’s reasons for trying to kill himself and Temoc. I did not peg her to being the heart of everything in the end, though. In hindsight, I should probably have seen it coming. Gladstone did a similar “This is so obvious that it cannot possibly be right” in Three Parts Dead, after all, except that Two Serpents Rise lacks the sheer “WTF just happened” value of that book at round about the same time for me.
It’s interesting because, on the surface, I should be adoring this book far more than Three Parts Dead. Non-western cultures? Yes, please! Tough moral questions because culture is involved in the asking? Gimme shiny!
Anyway! As much as I liked it, it also made me wish that we’d seen a little more of Mal than we have. I’d have liked more sense of how her past affected her and led her to this point. But then I’d just really like to see the story of how she and Alaxic set it all up. That’s bound to be interesting to read too!
2. Caleb and Temoc have to work together to save Dresediel Lex (and the world) from certain destruction. Do you think they make a good team?
If they weren’t so entirely opposed on the topic of religion, I think they could make a good team. As it stands, if there was any chance at a reconciliation between those two, I think it disappeared the moment Temoc betrayed Caleb. That said, I really did like the way they bounced off each other before that point and I liked the way Teo handled Temoc as well. It’s a tricky thing, though, calling someone out on behaviour that we think is unacceptable but that in another time and place would be entirely unremarkable. I think it’s the modern-based setting that really does it. One of the biggest reasons it’s tricky is because you don’t want your characters to suddenly sound like they have a particularly modern mindset. (At the same time, some people undoubtedly truly had that mindset.) I think Gladstone handled that particularly well for me.
3. What do you think of the narrative’s overall treatment of Teo? Especially in light of her role in the finale?
I really, really liked Teo in the beginning and throughout the book. She’s smart, she’s capable, she clearly likes her girlfriend (possibly less after they have a big fight about how to deal with a crisis situation) and she’s a good friend to Caleb. And Gladstone doesn’t make much of the fact that she has a girlfriend outside of how it relates to her relationship with Caleb and how it affects her own life as it comes up in the story.
And then comes Temoc. Whom, I should note, is called out for being a sexist jerk in the text itself. Teo calls him out on it on account of the fact that he’s acting like one. That’s not why I’m mentioning Temoc. I’m mentioning Temoc because, at the climax of the story, he almost succeeds in sacrificing Teo to the serpents and one of his main reasons for doing so is because she’s “untouched by man”. Which is technically true, but hi not every language in the world uses the words for ‘male person’ and ‘humanity’ interchangeably. (So, so glad that the text clearly marks that line as something to disagree with.)
What gets me about this bit in particular is that the sacrifices the priests chose before the God Wars are implied by the book to be queer in some way. We’ve seen only one other sacrifice highlighted, though the discussions about it have been pretty broad, and that sacrifice was also queer: Timas, the King in Red’s lover. So we’ve got one queer romance that ended in death and tragedy that took place before Two Serpents Rise and the outcome of which is still rippling throughout the entire novel if not the entire world because it’s the King in Red’s entire motivation for becoming a Craftsperson and destroying the gods. And around the climax of the novel we’ve got another that’s been averted because Teo lives (and continues to be awesome). It just… leaves me with no clue how to feel. I like what Gladstone did with Teo throughout the novel, but the not!sacrifice still leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth because it’s so close to being something I would like to see less of in my fiction.
And, at the same time, the narrative also doesn’t approve of what Temoc is doing in the slightest, which I’m happy to see. No one but Temoc (Not even Mal. Not even Alaxic, who went so far as to kill himself and try to take Temoc with him to make sure the old ways are dead and gone.) thinks what he’s doing and the religious practices he wants to bring back are a good idea. There’s some leeway in the text to allow for people’s general need for religion, but sacrificing people’s lives? Not an option.
So it’s not a case where Gladstone created a situation and then left it unexamined or unaddressed. Just most of that takes place before Temoc tries to sacrifice Teo. But the premise of it is still what it is and the book was still published in the context of other books that it was and… I don’t know. The context bothers me, but I think Two Serpents Rise handled it decently? Certainly better than a lot of books out there.
Wording. So hard. (*hides*)
4. In the epilogue Caleb seems to have found a way to compromise between the ways of his father and the new world brought about by the God Wars. Do you think he’ll succeed in his goals?
I think he very well might! Caleb is smart and resourceful and he’s clearly pretty good with people when he’s not head-over-heels in lust for them. And he’s got Teo to help him out, and we know she’s a very capable young woman. The King in Red… may be a bit harder for him to work with, but we’ve seen how dedicated he is to Dresediel Lex and its people. And we already know that it takes being really smart to become a Craftsperson, so he may not be happy about it, but he’ll see the wisdom of what Caleb is saying, surely.
Overall… I didn’t enjoy Two Serpents Rise as much as I did Three Parts Dead, but that’s partially because I didn’t get along with the central (intentionally broken!) romance, because the twists were a little less shocking and because I just got so conflicted about the way the story treated Teo in the end. I loved the setting of Dresediel Lex, but I think I loved the excursion to Seven Leaf even more. Change of scenery! I heart! I really enjoyed Caleb and Teo bouncing off one another and the Tzimet.
Okay, I admit, I didn’t actually enjoy the tzimet because tzimet are downright terrifying, but I appreciated their presence, especially at the end, because it really helps drive home how messed up the situation actually is. I really liked how Caleb and Temoc were forced to work together and it just didn’t work out. I like that Gladstone wrote a set of broken relationships that stay broken. I like my happy endings, but sometimes I just want something different.
And, um, I think that’s it? I had fun with this book. I enjoyed seeing something so different from what I normally end up reading setting-wise. It’s a solid story and a captivating one, with some bits that didn’t quite work for me and some bits that I’m going to have to be thinking on pretty hard.
Looking forward to reading everyone’s thoughts!