Wednesday, August 20, 2014

'Flects on Gladstone's Five

"On the island of Kavekana, priestess Kai builds gods to order–sort of.  Sub-sentient idols, Kai's creations are perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen who want to protect their wealth and power while operating in the Old World.  For beyond the ocean, true desires still thrive, untouched by the God Wars that transformed the city-states of Alt Coulumb and Dresediel Lex.

When Kai tries to save a friend's dying idol, she's gravely injured–then sidelined from the business, her near-suicidal rescue attempt seen as proof of her instability.  But when Kai tires of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and digs into the cause of the idol's death, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear that will break her if she can't break it first."

It took me seventeen days to finally finish reading Max Gladstone‘s Full Fathom Five; therefore, in the famous words of Bernadette Cooper (from the 80s band Klymaxx), I’m “much, much unhappy about that.” However, that’s probably not relevant when, really, I was preoccupied with sweet diversions. Even so, in a way, my taking forever to finish the book had to do with its pacing, which appeared a lot slower than the previous two books in the series. And that’s okay. Slower pacing isn't a bad thing at all.  Every reading experience shouldn't feel like an emergency. Besides, I understood the world-building and magical laws a little better in this particular Craft Sequence book because of its steady dishing.  The problem was that it became one of those books I could guiltlessly put down and pick back up later. 

In retrospect, either I didn't feel the hook of the premise, or it just took me forever and a day to be totally immersed and interested in it. Furthermore, once I finally understood the occurring plot (stimulating themes reflecting economics and gods) did I find how most of the fussing led to a sort of weak finale. I was hoping for that stopping-the-bad-guy rush I found in the previous two books, whereas Five ended a little more on the conversational debate side.  At least from where I stood.  Though it was light years better than this poor example, Five's ending kind of reminded me of those dull J. D. Robb moments where Eve Dallas spends the entire book chasing a killer only to corner him safely in an interrogation room after a casual pick-up.  Where's the fun in that!?  Battle that ish out on paper! 

For some areas surrounding the narrative–which switches mainly between Kai [see synopsis] and a teenage thief name Izza–I'm still kind of questioning some information in relation to the unfolding story. Okay, I’ll be specific in stating those areas filled with esoteric discussions about gods speaking to humans kind of lost me. Just a little. And really, it wouldn't have been so hard to follow if I had a little more explanation in the beginning concerning just who these gods were and represented.  That... was a little on the enigmatic side to me.  The Blue Lady, the Eagle, the Squid.  Help me out just a little bit here, because I obviously missed something.  Especially when I think about the god in Three Parts Dead who was supposedly dead, but hid right under everyone's nose as the fire to Abelard's cigarette.  Or the god caged and used underneath a water treatment plant in Two Serpents Rise.  In comparison, those gods seemed real and tangible in a sense.  The gods in Full Fathom Five seemed... well... like totems and tulpas.

Now, I know. I know. It sounds like I didn't like the book. Even so, the truth is that I did–and for several reasons. The first being that Kai is a transgender woman. My mouth split into a grin as page 31’s dialogue read:

Ms. Kavarian: “How did you remake yourself?”
Kai: “I was born in a body that didn't fit.”
Ms. Kavarian: “Didn't fit in what way?”
Kai: “It was a man’s…”

That… was exciting. However, while I was happy her being transgender wasn't the bedrock to her overall story, there was nothing else interesting nor... dexterous... produced from it. Okay, so thankfully it didn't take over the plot, but I kind of wanted her to talk about it just a smidget or two more.  Especially because I know individuals who identify as transgender. So my question was how this is implicated in a fantasy novel, given how she achieved this change in ways wondrous and unlike anything anyone could imagine. Maybe that’s just my curiosity speaking. Nonetheless, considering each book in the Craft Sequence series is mostly a standalone, I’m going to be sad if I don’t see Kai again. I can say that while it took me forever and a day to read Full Fathom Five, I thoroughly enjoyed Kai’s company the entire way. In many respects, I liked her degrees more than Tara from the first book.

So with that being said, the second lead, Izza, was rather hit-or-miss with me.  I never quite connected with her and her purpose.  She seemed really B-plot motivated in some areas, despite having a bigger role in the book.  I think I would've liked it better if she and Kai partnered sooner.  It just would've seemed right if some commitments and pledges were made earlier in the story between the two.  But with each (Kai and Izza) finding herself preoccupied with returning characters from Gladstone's previous two books, I can see why this didn't happen.

Still, there were plenty of other elements I really enjoyed in Full Fathom Five. One of those being this sort of policing creature called Penitents. Imagine having your body sucked into a giant, humanoid size piece of amethyst rock.  Then suddenly your mind is tased and controlled to direct the will of a giant stone creature that holds you prisoner. Scary stuff.  As for the image on the right, that's what Penitents make me think of for some reason. 

As always, mystery and corporate politics collide with fantasy and imagination in a Gladstone book.  Furthering my love of his work!

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