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Literature / Two Serpents Rise

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"Would you bring back the blood, the dying cries, the sucking chest wounds? The constant war? So we’re caught between two poles of hypocrisy. We sacrifice our right to think of ourselves as good people, our right to think our life is good, our city is just. And so we and our city both survive.”
Caleb Altemoc


Two Serpents Rise is the second in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence novel series.

In a world torn between sorcery and dead gods, risk management for a water utility company could be a deadly profession. When shadow demons plague the city reservoir, risk manager Caleb Altemoc is sent to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. But Caleb has more than his job security and love life to worry about when he discovers that his father, the last priest of the old gods, has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

Novel contains: necromancy, ironic humor, a depressed gay lich king, sacrifice, philosophical religious questions, and coffee.

Preceded by Three Parts Dead, followed by Full Fathom Five. See the series' page for tropes that are common to the whole Craft Sequence.


Two Serpents Rise provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Cool City: Floating skyscrapers, giant black-glass pyramids for office buildings, zombie street cleaners, and goddesses hovering over every poker game.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Temoc was the High Priest of a religion which practiced Human Sacrifice and under the new regime is a notorious wanted terrorist. He's also a loving father who cares about Caleb's well-being (including asking about his love life) despite their differences in "politics". At one point, Temoc breaks into Caleb's apartment for a clandestine meeting and takes the time to make his son's bed and straighten up the place. Not to mention, he thinks he's doing the right thing and kind of has a point.
    • The King in Red is a terrifying deicidal sorcerer turned lich... and a great boss who looks out for his employees and citizens.
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  • Always a Bigger Fish: Waking the King in Red to curb-stomp high priest Temoc.
  • Archnemesis Dad: Temoc is this to Caleb. Temoc was High Priest of the old gods who were defeated by Kopil, Caleb's current boss, and post-regime change, is a wanted terrorist.
  • Badass Boast: The King in Red as he prepared to fight Mal.
    In the God Wars, I tore space and time asunder. I made a crack in the world. We shall see which of us is the more fearsome.
  • Badass in Distress: Kopil and the RKC board, all enormously powerful sorcerers, are incapacitated by the demands of the Heartstone contract when the Serpents awaken. Caleb and Teo have to rescue them in order to save the city.
  • Beta Couple: Teo and her girlfriend Sam have a way easier time of it than Caleb and Mal.
  • Better Living Through Evil: The sorcerous megacorporation Red King Consolidated uses zombie laborers, enslaved gods, and other strange and ethically dubious means to provide for the people of Dresediel Lex.
  • Berserk Button: Do not mention anything positive about the gods to Kopil. He will kill you.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Sometimes the Tzimet takes the form of giant black crystal spiders.
    • Also, the demon security guards like the shape of giant insects.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mal dies after losing control of the Serpents. However, Caleb is wiser for his experiences, and decides to help the world Take a Third Option in rebuilding it.
  • Clear Their Name: Temoc, the terrorist father of Caleb, insists that he is innocent and did not poison the water supply.
  • Covered in Scars: Caleb - his father gave them to him when he was a child to protect him.
  • Dark Action Girl: Malina Kekapania attacks Bay Station, kills a god, and awakens twin serpents to chase Craftsmen out of Dresediel Lex.
  • Dem Bones: The King in Red.
  • Freudian Excuse: Mal, who lost her parents during the Skittersill Uprising/Riots.
  • Illegal Religion: The new regime of Dresediel Lex is not so fond of gods and their followers after overthrowing them. The human sacrifice probably has something to do with that.
  • It's All About Me: Kopil.
    Kopil: It has been half a century since I last felt weakness. Do they appreciate what I do for them, I wonder.
    Caleb: There are people who have sacrificed more and lived less comfortably, with death their only promise of release.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Caleb.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Subverted. Through Caleb’s flawed viewpoint, the reader sees Mal as his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It turns out that she’s got her own agenda. Word of God explains how this is quite deliberate.
  • Modern Mayincatec Empire: Quechal used to be a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of this, but the old religion was overthrown a couple of decades before the novel begins, and it's now a Magitek version of a 21st century capitalist city-state with a pseudo-Mesoamerican dominant culture.
  • The Necrocracy: Dresediel Lex is ruled by Kopil, the lich CEO of the city’s reigning corporation.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Caleb and Mal defeat the Craftswoman who was poisoning the Seven Leaf Lake reservoir and repair the damage. In doing so, Caleb unknowingly helps Mal’s plot to weaken the RKC and raise the Twin Serpents by linking the reservoir to the Serpents and helping to silence one of Mal's co-conspirators.
  • Not Me This Time: Temoc insists that he's not behind the terrorist attacks occuring throughout the novel, asserting that he would never engage in terrorism that hurt so many innocent people. He's telling the truth.
  • Ninja Pirate Robot Zombie: Kopil is a gay lich sorcerer businessman who rides a giant lizard.
  • Person with the Clothing: The King in Red.
  • Physical Religion: The gods are real, and they are hungry.
  • Playing Hard to Get: Subverted. Caleb interprets Mal's secretive behavior and sporadic communication early in the book as this, but she's actually trying to keep him at a distance so he won't interfere with her planned revolt.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: During Temoc's clandestine meetings with Caleb, Temoc has a tendency to suddenly disappear when Caleb's back is turned, often leaving an open window in his wake. This prompts the requisite response from Caleb that, "I hate when he does that."
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Caleb and Teo briefly work with Temoc to save the city, sniping at each other over ideological differences along the way.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: There are a few of these in this book.
    • Temoc wants to free the surviving gods and end what he sees as an era of corruption and tyranny. To this end, he engages in terrorism against Red King Consolidated.
    • The King in Red killed the gods to build a society free of human sacrifice and violently repressed the Skittersill Rising to defend it.
    • Mal is ready to awaken the Serpents and put the city in peril in order to overthrow the King in Red and make way for a free and authentic Quechal society.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds
    • Kopil, the King in Red, killed and enslaved a pantheon of gods and tore a hole in time and space after his beloved was sacrificed to feed the hungry gods.
    • The anger that drives Mal's evil scheme arises from her parents being killed in a horrifying fashion for opposing Kopil's regime and her homeland being subjected, as she sees it, to occupation by corrupt outside powers.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Temoc hits Teo, and afterward apologizes, telling her that he does not "relish striking women." Teo thanks him for his "condescending, sexist apology."
  • Villains Out Shopping: Temoc, notorious and extremely wanted terrorist, has a habit of popping up out of nowhere to say hi to his estranged son and ask how he’s doing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the King in Red has a thing about coffee, which he’s fully capable of metabolizing despite being a fleshless skeleton.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: Played with. The old religion's idea of who constituted a "virgin" for such purposes included "those untouched by the opposite sex," which through Loophole Abuse and/or homophobia included homosexuals, hence the use of "altar maid" as a very nasty Unusual Euphemism encountered by the lesbian Teo. Temoc eventually attempts to follow through on the implicit threat. Decades ago, Kopil’s lover was also sacrificed, starting him on the road to becoming the deicidal King in Red.