RogerBW's Blog

Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone 06 August 2015

2014 technological fantasy. On the island of Kavekana, the main business is idols: all the convenience of a god, but none of the commitment or free will of the real thing. One of them has died thanks to a bad financial deal, but the priestess Kai tried to save her, and heard something odd as she did.

What a relief: after the disappointment of Two Serpents Rise, Gladstone comes back on form. For me it's not quite the blast to the senses that Three Parts Dead was, but it's still very good.

As before, the setting is a mirror of the modern global financial system, this time with a strong element of Hawaii (and the Cayman Islands) mixed in. Several characters have the protection of the island as their major goal, but they have thoroughly divergent ideas concerning just what about the island is the thing that deserves to be protected. For example, if it stops being a financial haven, what's left for it in the future?

The narrative is double-stranded: Kai gets into trouble as a result of her impulsive act, and starts tracking down more details of idol Seven Alpha and just what strangeness was going on. Izza the young street thief knows that her goddess the Blue Lady is dead, and since she has a way off the island she's just trying to get some security for her gang before she goes. Several characters from previous books reappear (though, sadly, no Tara Abernethy); there's a different sort of magical police force, the Penitents, who are criminals immured in near-indestructible stone statues and gradually brainwashed as they're forced to be a part of the city's law enforcement.

This book continues the blending of modern concepts with magical trappings: people contact each other via nightmare rather than phone, and their coinage carries a certain amount of soul-stuff, but they're happy to accuse each other of cribbing comic book one-liners, and one set of novels is described as:

"This is kingship, politics, murder. Awful lot of murder. Especially at parties for some reason."

Wonder what that might be a reference to. There's occasional overblown writing like

He lifted the shirt and tossed it in a hamper. The circle of revealed white carpet glared up at them like a glaucomic eye.

but mostly the narrative voice is consistent, with a slow and considered rhythm to it that's more reliable than the lurching acceleration of Three Parts Dead. Things do move more quickly towards the end, but there aren't the sudden changes of pace that that book held.

"Gods, I love sports. All the excitement of real news, only it doesn't matter so you don't have to worry about it."

You certainly won't be surprised by the identity of the bad guys, and I often felt several steps ahead of the characters, but they weren't expecting to have major assumptions about their world suddenly questioned and I was.

Walking out of the office, numb from incense and the glassy stares of painted kittens in the motivational prints that adorned the man's walls, she realized she need not have worried.

Some commenters have made a point out of Kai being transgender: during her initiation, she was able to remake her body, and chose to have the female one that felt right to her rather than the male one she was born with. Fair enough, but this doesn't make up a major plot point: nobody treats her being as anything other than conventionally female, and there's little that's unique about her mindset. If you're looking for a story about being trans, this isn't it; if you're looking for a story where a trans person is just another person, then that's just what you get here.

I would have been happy to see this among the Best Novel Hugo nominees for this year.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:10pm on 06 August 2015

    Lots of murders at parties, or at least attempted murders? Sounds like the Space 1889 campaign I play in on Fridays that Bob Dowling runs. It's reached the stage of "wow, we went to a party/civic function and nobody was attacked or died". We've had dozens of parties or functions, and only two I recall where no attack happened (and one of those was the Jewish PC marrying, is anyone mad enough to attack a Jewish wedding?).

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:23pm on 06 August 2015

    I think he's thinking of Game of Thrones (see "Red Wedding" etc.).

    Of course there won't be any murders at the Masquerade Ball in Khartoum. Perish the thought.

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