READALONG: Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone – Week 3

The story’s really gathering steam, and I’m almost 3/4 through Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise. And loving every moment, unsurprisingly. Plenty of excitement, interesting plot developments, and, as usual for the readalong, plenty of questions along the way, this time brought to us by Lauren from Violin in a Void.

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?

Right now I have the impression that their relationship is quite one-sided. I don’t think Mal’s as into things as Caleb. I could be wrong, it could just be that she’s far more reserved about relationships than he is, and that they have some issues between them that he finds it easier to put aside for a while than she does. But the more the book goes on, the more convinced I am that she’s actually more involved in the main mystery than I first gave her credit for.

I’m not sure about her statement that Caleb needs gods in his life. However, there are some things that we can’t always get away from when it was fed to us as children. Some old habits linger, even when we don’t mean them to. Case in point, Caleb invoking the names of gods when he expressed awe, entirely unthinkingly. I’d say that Caleb might have chased her because he saw in her some aspect of what he grew up with, those old thought patterns written deep, but given that he didn’t know any of that stuff when he first got interested in her, I doubt it. It might be part of the reason why he remains so obsessed. But I think at the core, he just found her interesting, something different rather than familiar, and the fact that she ran such risks and was, for a time, unattainable, fed his desire.

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?

What I found fascinating is the idea of sacrifice that comes up so often. I agree that there’s a big difference between sacrifice and payment, for one thing. A sacrifice that isn’t worth much isn’t a sacrifice at all. Payment, though, is a simple exchange, one thing for another, and it’s a king of sacrifice though it carries different connotations. Payment implies equal worth between the things being exchanged, where a sacrifice is a willing loss with nothing implicitly gained in the process.

Problem I find with Caleb’s argument is that it’s very personal, and he’s applying his personal experiences to the whole. Religion gave him problems. And I’m not trying to minimize the effect of those problems. But a lot of his arguments seem to come down to the insistence that because it was bad for him, it’s bad for everyone. He’s in favour of enforced secularism rather than free choice, and I disagree with that.

Enslaving or subduing the gods doesn’t get rid of them. And from what I’ve been able to grasp from Gladstone’s books so far, nor does it stop new deities from being born if the need for them arises and enough people believe. They’re all doing the very human thing of assuming it has to be one way or the other, that a compromise can’t be reached and so nobody tries for a compromise, always stuck in favour of whatever would just benefit themselves the most.

(Speaking of getting philosophical…)

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?

I can’t say that any one things interested me the most, because they’re all threads in a rich tapestry of worldbuilding. The way gods are used has fascinated me since the first book, though; the way they take something metaphysical and do very physical things with them. It requires a weird mental twist to wrap my head around sometimes, but in doing so, it makes sense. I may not understand it entirely, but it fits in well with the world that Gladstone has made.

But I’d say the thing that interests me the very most is the way Gladstone is capable of pulling so much inspiration from underappreciated cultures in the real world and turning them into a beautifully rich and complex fantasy world, without going over the top and making everything stereotypical. Every little piece of the world that gets unveiled is, as I said, another thread in the tapestry, and I love seeing what it all expresses.

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?

It was that event which convinced me that Mal does have more to do with everything than I first suspected. I figured early on that she was too obvious a suspect, but now I wonder if Gladstone tripped me up with that one. She was too obvious for me to suspect her, so in discounting her, I actually discounted her as not possibly being involved. The trap of knowing too many tropes, I guess. I still don’t think she’s at the core of all this, but I think she’s more involved than I first gave her credit for.

However, as to what exactly is going on, I’m only just starting to formulate suspicions, and I have too many ideas with not enough info to back any of them up, so I’m just going to wait and see how it all plays out. We’re getting to the last quarter of the book, things are coming to a head, and it’s time for so much to be revealed. Can’t wait to dive back in!

4 comments on “READALONG: Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone – Week 3

  1. Pingback: Two Serpents Rise read-along: part three | Violin in a Void

  2. Nice point about the ‘enforced secularism’ – spot on actually. The world is a diverse place and yet here we have only one system which restricts all others. A compromise is definitely needed. I hope that Mal can come up with something – although whether Caleb and Mal can make their relationship work after all this is another thing. I’m not particularly feeling it but we’ll see. And, I’m rather hoping that we get a few explanations in this next section, I’m not a total dunce but it would definitely be nice to have a few things cleared up.
    Lynn :D

  3. Pingback: April in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

  4. Mal does seem more reserved about a relationship that Caleb does. But that might also be because of wherever the plot is going – she has said a few times that there isn’t much time left.

    Good point about Caleb approaching all religion from his own personal experience (like most of us do) without leaving room for what other people have experienced, believe, and want for the future.

    Perfectly said about the world building! I love all the Aztec-like culture in this book. Having been brought up in the desert Southwest, so much of it resonates. It great to see chunks of that culture taken further and expanded upon in this fantasy world.

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