If the cover still has an Elizabeth Bear blurb on it 0, that’s a plausible choice on Tor’s part but the blurb that they actually went with was “The best yet from Max Gladstone.” – Charles Stross1.
Alt Coulomb remained loyal to their surviving god. Dresediel Lex massacred their gods and replaced them with Undying Kings. The tropical island nation of Kavekana chose a third option, replacing their dead gods with what amount to artificial deities, human-crafted idols used as center-pieces in mystical investment schemes. Until now, that compromise has seemingly worked well.
Idols are affected by their finances and when an idol’s investment group goes bust, the loss of soul stuff – the currency of magic – kills the idol. This is tragic but sometimes it is unavoidable, or so corporate priestess Kai has always believed. When idol Seven Alpha is consigned to death, Kai is possessed by a sudden urge to try to save it; her attempt only succeeds in nearly killing Kai.
Sidelined for the very sensible reason that her co-workers now fear that she has gone seriously off-bubble, Kai becomes convinced by Seven Alpha’s enigmatic dying words that there is more to Seven Alpha’s death than the standard tale of an impecunious investment package gone horribly wrong. Investigation reveals a world more complex than the one she believed she lived in. It also makes her a target….
I feel like I need to mention that Teo, who I never got around to mentioning to the degree she deserved in my review of Two Serpents Rise, appears in this. It’s not surprising it’s her and not Colin because Tai is more interesting.
Once again, Gladstone successfully merges mystery conventions with fantasy world-building. Having listened to a surprisingly large number of 1940s-era adventure radio plays, I can also attest that Kavekana fits in with settings from traditional South Pacific adventure tales in some ways while treating the locals (and women) with a lot more respect than Escape ever did. Tropical islands in fiction seem to attract a particular range of characters and it seems to matter less than I would have expected whether the island is on our Earth or an echo world.
I was also reminded a bit of some software roll-outs, in particular how some companies deal with inconsiderate end-users expecting the new package to do what it is supposed to do and to do it without exciting side-excursions. I suspect this is a fairly universal reaction; even when transparency could work in the company’s favor, it’s rarely their first instinct. Although I suppose Open Source theological engineering probably has its own set of peculiar failure modes, a good chunk of the plot is driven by self-sabotaging secrecy.
The economic themes of the series continue. Probably not a series to recommend to your libertarian friends, although in the author’s defense, there are no mustache-twirling arch-villains here; even the antagonists argue they are acting in the name of the greater good. While the current system is seriously flawed and exploitative, the main difference between the new systems and the old is costs are hidden a little better and in some cases more widely distributed. Utopia remains aspirational.
Gladstone also has not run out of ways for the survivors of the God Wars to deal with the post (or perhaps inter) war reality, although it’s pretty clear that so far none of the arrangements the various communities have hit on are working nearly as well as they are supposed to, that something better or some things better are needed before all the wheels fall off civilization.
0. Tor sent me the proper cover art but here is the version I was referring to.
Until I began adding cover art to these reviews, I had not noticed the degree to which online and actual covers differ. I wonder, if I had acquired an ebook, which cover would I have got?
1. Sometimes I offer companies blurbs - “Finally, a book by this author that does not make me want to set fire to their word processor!” “Held my interest and not just for the completely false urban myth breathlessly repeated as utterly true on page 98!” “Bold choice of author photo!”, “Has words in, was finite” - but nobody ever takes me up on this.