Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second book I've read in the Craft Sequence, and I liked it better than the first. Maybe that's because I'm more familiar with Gladstone's world (and an inventive, layered, complex world it is), and maybe it's because the setting for this book--an island, with the appropriate isolationist economy and worldview that the villain will repeatedly murder to defend--has a laserlike focus that the first book seemed to lack. In any event, I can see the improvement in the author's (heh) craft: the pacing and plotting are tighter (perhaps a touch slow in the first half, but necessary to set up and advance the storylines of the two protagonists), the characterizations better, and the ending is nicely landed.
Most of all, the author avoids dragging his story down with infodumps, despite this being an extremely complicated and unique universe. (I mean, hell, in Gladstone's world, gods and goddesses are literal beings that live by and through the numbers and fervency of their worshipers, and they can die. In fact, the death of an idol, which here is an artificially created deity that doesn't quite have the worshipers to attain full sentience, kicks off the book.) He reveals just what you need to know at any given moment while getting on with the story, which inspires trust in the reader. I assumed I would be able to figure everything out by the end, and I did. It was also and absorbing and rewarding ride getting to that end, thanks to the sparkling characterizations of Kai and Izza, the protagonists.
In addition, there's a nicely plotted mystery involved, which ties in with themes of change and the acceptance of the fact that your small, isolated piece of real estate and culture cannot, and will not, remain static forever. The villain wants to hold back that metaphorical tide, and does some terrible things in service to his goal. (He also has a seriously creepy police force in the Penitents, living stone statues that swallow people whole and infect their minds in an attempt to brainwash them.) In the end, he is defeated by Kai and Izza, in a hard-fought and very much earned victory. The book ends on a bittersweet but hopeful note: change is coming to the island of Kavekana, but thanks to the efforts of these two, the people are far better prepared to meet it.
One of the front blurbs on this book mentions it as belonging to the "urban fantasy" genre. This is a misnomer, as it is no such thing. Humans populate this world, but it does not reflect our continents and cities, and culture- and history-wise it is very much its own thing. Max Gladstone's excellent worldbuilding is just one of the attractions of this series, which I wholeheartedly recommend.
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