Full Fathom Five, by Max Gladstone

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Publication date – July 15, 2014

Summary: On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World. When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

Thoughts: The third book of the Craft Sequence, Full Fathom Five takes us once again to a new place, the island of Kavekana, based pretty obviously on the Hawaiian islands. Which is right away something that I noticed about this book that sets it apart from many other fantasy novels; for all that Hawaii has a really interesting history and culture, it’s another one of those places that doesn’t get much fantasy based upon it. So it’s got that going for it.

The story alternates back and forth, for the most part, between Kai, a priestess who works with idols, and Izza, a street girl trying to achieve something else in her life. Kai’s life changes after she attempts to save a dying idol and finds signs that it’s become sentient, something which isn’t supposed to be possible given the way idols are made. Izza’s life changes after one of her gods dies, and she decides she wants something else beyond living on the street and telling secret stories of forbidden gods to other street kids. Throw in a few surprise cameos from characters we saw in other books in the series, and the stories converge into something that could rock the entire Kavekanese culture to its core.

When I first started reading this series, I was told that for the most part, it’s a series of standalones, that you could jump into any book in any order and not feel lost. There were a few bits of the second book that were richer for having read the first one, but in the beginning, I agreed with that summation. But here, with 3 characters from previous novels making appearances and referencing events that happened before and elsewhere, the series is starting to come together more as a whole. I suspect you could enjoy this book without having read the previous ones, but knowledge of the other two books in the series will make more than a few character motivations and actions make more sense. Why does Cat have a weird silver suit? What business brought Teo to Kavekana, or gave her the scars she’s so touchy about? These aren’t important plot points, but they seem like unaddressed issues that are brought up and then discarded without explanation, unless you already know the answers.

I love the story that Full Fathom Five tells, though it’s really difficult to talk about it and avoid spoilers at the same time. Suffice it to say there’s a good deal of religious debate, looking at the value of gods and worship, and now that I’m typing that out, it sounds an awful lot like things you could say about, oh, the rest of the series. Which is one great reason why I do love the series so much. But in Full Fathom Five, there’s a flat-out debate over the relative merits of atheism versus religion, and whether one is better than the other. I love the way it doesn’t dance around heavy-hitting subjects like that, and I love the way the debate didn’t reach any real conclusion. There are pros and cons to both sides, and neither one is more right than the other.

It’s also worth saying that unlike most fantasy novels, the majority of the characters here are women. It’s rare to see this. It’s rarer still to see all the women be strong, capable, independent women, doing what they need to do when they need to do it. Kai is probably the most influenced by the men in her life, from Jace to Claude to even Mako, but she doesn’t lean on them for support, and she doesn’t defer to them when she knows she’s right.

Kai also deserves a mention for being a trans woman, too; also an uncommon occurrence in fantasy novels.

Whenever I make note of such things, like gay characters, or trans characters, or women who can be awesome without needing men to encourage said awesomeness, I always wonder whether that really needs to be mentioned. Whether or not I’m doing more harm by bringing up how different it is that all this stuff is presented as normal, a part of someone’s life but not the ultimate definition of their character. An aspect rather than a limitation. But then again, no, it still does bear mention, because the number of books that give this treatment to minorities are still vastly outnumbered by the books that don’t. So yes, this book has some awesome women and a really great transgender female lead character, in addition to being a fantastic story.

There’s a lot to Full Fathom Five, plenty of intelligent plotlines and conspiracies and the usual theology-combined-with-law that makes the Craft Sequence books so unique. It’s a wonderful continuation of the series, a testament to Gladstone’s strength as a writer and a storyteller, and the kind of novel of which there can be no imitation. It stands above the crowd, and justifiably so. Definitely worth reading, and I can’t wait to dive into Last First Snow next.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

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