It’s the final week of the the Two Serpents Rise read-along! Things suddenly got very brutal and bloody, although that’s exactly what you’d expect when you’re reading a book based on Aztec mythology. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but I did have a few issues with the way certain things turned out. Luckily, our host, Lynn from Little Lion Lynnet’s, set some questions that let me get to grips with what happened. Please let me know what you thought in the comments.
This section naturally covers all the final events of the book, so don’t even look at the questions if you want to avoid spoilers!
1. I think we all pegged Mal as being involved with whatever is going wrong in Dresediel Lex after the way Book 3 ended last week. How do you feel about discovering how deep that involvement goes?
The massacre at Bay Station was a shock; I didn’t expect that she’d go right back there and slaughter everyone. It was an entertaining kind of shock, but it bothers me. Caleb showed Qet to her as a surprise; she didn’t seem to know the god was still alive, where he was, or how to get there. Did she just decide to kill him, cut off the water supply and send the city into a rioting panic on the spur of the moment? If Caleb hadn’t shown her Qet, what would she have done? Surely she should have been busy doing it, preparing for the rise of the serpents, not going on a pre-apocalypse date with Caleb.
And it’s not like she just decided to cut off the water supply in addition to whatever else she was planning – it was an essential step that crippled RKC and left the Red King unable to fight back.
Plot holes aside, I’m not quite sure how I feel about Mal’s role. It was no surprise that she was the villain and I loved that she was, but I expected her to be a more sympathetic. Instead she ends up being the psycho vengeance monster who can’t be reasoned with and has to die. At one point it’s stated outright that this is what motivates her:
She was rage, dying, and born again she was vengeance.
I find that a bit simplistic, given the scope of her plan and the nobility of her commitment to saving the world. Maybe it’s a way of making it easier for the reader to side with Caleb and accept Mal’s demise? She’s at least a bit more complex than Denovo in the first book, but I would have liked the narrative to be more sympathetic towards Mal and made the reader feel genuinely dreadful that either she or Caleb had to lose. Personally, I didn’t really feel bad about it even though I mostly agreed with what she was trying to do.
She’s not that different from Caleb, Temoc or Kopil though. Each of them is so set in their convictions that they can’t be swayed, except perhaps for Caleb and Kopil, at the very end. Was Mal’s decision to take down RKC so different from Kopil’s decision to fight the gods or Temoc’s terrorist activities? Is her hatred for RKC any different from Caleb’s hatred of the gods? And, as it turns out, her ideas are actually great, which is why Caleb adopts them at the end. She was doing the right thing, just in the wrong way.
I was thinking a while back about how “mal” in French means “wrong” or “immoral”, and you see it in English words like “malfunction”, “maladroit”, “malpractice”. In the South African language Afrikaans, “mal” literally means “mad” or “crazy”, referring to both anger and insanity. At the time I thought maybe it was a bit too obvious if Mal were a psycho villain, but… yeah.
2. Caleb and Temoc have to work together to save Dresediel Lex (and the world) from certain destruction. Do you think they make a good team?
No, not really. I mean they did a decent job of working together for a while, but neither of them can compromise for the other. Caleb refuses to sacrifice even one person to safe Dresediel Lex, even if the sacrifice is willing. Temoc agrees to Caleb’s plan, but this turns out to be a ruse to allow him to sacrifice Teo. Temoc also refuses to use an optera because it goes against his religious principles, which is a bit ludicrous given that he’d just tried to convince Caleb to kill someone. And then they end up beating the crap out of each other… They can work together, but they’re a terrible team.
3. What do you think of the narrative’s overall treatment of Teo? Especially in light of her role in the finale?
This is actually something that’s been bothering me very slightly throughout the book, although I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate it or if it was worth discussing, so I didn’t say anything. I immediately liked Teo, but I got the sense that she was there to be a helper of some sort – for the reader, for Caleb, for the plot. The first thing she does in the book is explain a key aspect of Caleb’s character – that he’s become afraid to take risks and his life is a bit dull. Then she pops up whenever he needs to talk, providing an opportunity for conversations that the reader needs to hear. She’s Caleb’s best friend and she works at RKC, so Caleb is free to discuss pretty much anything with her.
She has other traits that seem to exist for their own sake, making her a fuller character, but then these things all end up being what makes her the perfect sacrifice for Temoc – lesbian (so never had sex with a man, supposedly), noble blood, feisty, brave, committed. On the one hand, I loved that twist and thought it was quite clever. I totally didn’t see it coming, and it was all so neat in a way I quite like. On the other hand, Teo ended up being used for the narrative’s convenience, again. I like it, but I don’t like it. Is it efficient writing, or is Teo used as a plot device? I don’t know.
But what the fuck is up with this virgin sacrifice crap? I get the stupid purity thing, but how is Teo more “innocent” because she’s never had sex with a man? Even if she’s really never had sex with a man (something Temoc just assumed) I don’t consider her a virgin, and I hardly think she would call herself one. And surely it’s the physical and emotional intimacy of sex that changes you, not the physical act of penetration by a penis? Does Temoc know anything about lesbian sex? Anyway, the whole thing is a crock of bullshit.
4. In the epilogue Caleb seems to have found a way to compromise between the ways of his father and the new world brought about by the God Wars. Do you think he’ll succeed in his goals?
Yeah, I think he will, given that he has Kopil’s support. Also, it might have some major benefits other than sustainability, like opening the oceans to travel and industry again. Caleb mentioned that, without the gods, the sea was just too dangerous for fishing, but with his new scheme he might be able to fix that.
Overall, I didn’t like this as much as the first book. It’s not bad, and I’d keep reading the series, but i wouldn’t get terribly excited about it.
Things get pretty serious at the end, but I had a few little laughs:
– “You did not tell me you were seeing anyone.” [Temoc, when Caleb tells him that his girlfriend is the villain. The absurdity of this man expecting Caleb to keep him up to date on his personal life :D]
– “I apologize for hitting you.” Temoc bowed his head. “I do not relish striking women.” “Thank you,” Teo said with a cold edge, “for your condescending, sexist apology.” [Yay Teo!]
– Temoc, Priest of All Gods, sipped water from a blue coffee mug emblazoned with the words “World’s Best Daughter” above a picture of a goddess suckling a serpent. [This city is weird.]
– “The trouble with atheism,” Temoc said, “is that it offers a limited range of curses.” [A lot less guilt though.]
Yeah, I had a few issues with this one to be honest. I didn’t even think about the whole plot around Mal and the fact that she couldn’t have planned to kill the God! I think my real issue with this one is that the characters of Mal and Temoc just felt wrong at the end – not very well articulated at all – but there it is. And that’s not to say I wanted a perfect ending and everybody to end up okay but more that the characters felt really different somehow. Like they’d been written up to that point in a fairly ambiguous way that wouldn’t make you not like them and then suddenly we’re confronted with this extreme behaviour which felt really unexpected.
I know what you mean about Teo – I thought it was a shame that she had to be used like that really. I never really felt like she was given a chance to be a really solid character.
I know what you mean about the characters. I don’t need a happy ending either and in fact I preferred the ambiguity of Mal and Temoc, but then Gladstone makes it pretty clear exactly how we’re supposed to feel about them. I’d rather struggle with my feelings; that usually means the book is more interesting.
Did she just decide to kill him, cut off the water supply and send the city into a rioting panic on the spur of the moment?
I think she was always going to attack Bay Station and cut off the water supply; that fits with the other attacks. She just didn’t expect to find Qet purifying the water in there and that would have altered her plans of what to do after the massacre, but I don’t remember if it was very clear what she planned to do with the heart.
I find that a bit simplistic, given the scope of her plan and the nobility of her commitment to saving the world. Maybe it’s a way of making it easier for the reader to side with Caleb and accept Mal’s demise?
Didn’t she go mad the way that we saw Allesandre do at Seven Leaf? We know from Three Parts Dead that Craftspeople lose their humanity slowly, but Mal, certainly, must have had it stripped away in moments and how would she have handled that? How long would she’ve been able to hold on to herself?
Does Temoc know anything about lesbian sex?
I’m going to guess not. I don’t think that’s very surprising, though, given his apparent opinion on women in general. I’d daresay that if we’d seen more of his behaviour around women, we’d have seen him express a lot more bull than he did. (Now I wish Teo had suggested he sacrifice himself to keep the serpent sisters sleeping. Surely the priest who dedicated his entirely life to the gods and whom said gods favoured with apparent-immortality is a much purer sacrifice, even if he isn’t a virgin?)
“I think she was always going to attack Bay Station and cut off the water supply; that fits with the other attacks.”
Hmm, good point. Although I wonder how she planned to do it. She didn’t seem to know you could walk on the water to Bay Station – she was shocked when Caleb jumped down to the water. He also mentioned that you need to be in a specific state of mind to get there – if you focus on getting there, you can’t. You have to distract yourself. If Mal didn’t know this, and it just so happened that Caleb unwittingly gave her exactly what she needed at the very last minute, then that’s a bit too contrived for me.
“Didn’t she go mad the way that we saw Allesandre do at Seven Leaf?”
Quite likely, but I still don’t like it when an otherwise capable, rational villain just loses the plot during the endgame.
“Surely the priest who dedicated his entirely life to the gods and whom said gods favoured with apparent-immortality is a much purer sacrifice, even if he isn’t a virgin?”
Hah, yeah, that reminds me of a moment earlier in the book when Caleb asks why no priests were sacrificed.
Use the Craft somehow, I’d suspect. I’m with Susan on giving Gladstone (and Mal) the benefit of the doubt, though I’d have liked at least a glimpse of what Mal’s original plan was. That would’ve helped against the “Is this a plot hole?” feeling, I think.
Quite likely, but I still don’t like it when an otherwise capable, rational villain just loses the plot during the endgame.
True, and fair. To Gladstone’s credit, he handles it with more subtlety and grace than other authors might, but the overall effect isn’t necessarily a nice one. And I think we all liked Mal, to greater or lesser extent, and at the very end every bit of that gets stripped away. Fascinating stuff for a paper, though. Almost makes me wish I was any good at essay writing.
So I didn’t notice a plot hole. Since Mal and Caleb talk later about Mal not wanting to be alone the night before committing such a slaughter, I felt that brought things together. I can easily fill in the holes thinking that Mal had set herself the task of (or been tasked by Alaxic) of taking out the water supply, and since Caleb was going the same way she was going, why not have one last night of human contact?
Then I was OK with her character narrowing as she puts her convictions in motion. Bits of her humanity were stripped away by her deeds and given up willing when she joined with the Serpent deities.
Ha! Yeah, Temoc refusing to use an optera because of his religious beliefs…. and yet he is totally OK with insisting on sacrificing a human, with Caleb along for the ride, with no concessions to Caleb’s beliefs. Can I slap Temoc?
I was fine with Teo’s roles in the book. I will go with efficient writing. After all, this is Caleb’s story, not Teo’s story.
And the whole virgin sacrifice always makes me snort no matter when I find it. I don’t know how homosexual relationships were treated in ancient Aztec society, so I don’t feel I can extrapolate from that into the fantasy world. Taking it on the surface it definitely sounds like Temoc hasn’t watched any lesbian porn and doesn’t understand that sex is more than simple penile penetration. And if the penis if the path to such ruination, then why do the deities accept male priests? I think I need to slap Temoc twice.
And that takes me right to Teo’s response to Temoc’s apology, which you quote above. Hooray!
“Mal had set herself the task of (or been tasked by Alaxic) of taking out the water supply, and since Caleb was going the same way she was going, why not have one last night of human contact?”
What still bugs me though is whether or not Mal would have been able to get to the station without Caleb’s help. Did she know you could walk on the water? Did she know that you’ll never reach it if you specifically think about going there? Even if she had planned that attack, it looks a lot like Caleb just so happened to give her the means to do it.
“Bits of her humanity were stripped away by her deeds and given up willing when she joined with the Serpent deities.”
I still would have liked her to be more rational and sympathetic, just so that the conflict didn’t feel so easy to judge.
Temoc must surely have some understanding of homosexuality, especially given that it doesn’t seem taboo in this society. Maybe the problem stems from the religion itself, which is ancient and based on the idea that there’s only one kind of sex?
I can see your point about Mal and what she did or did not know. I am willing to give the character (and the author) the benefit of a doubt since I enjoyed the book so much.
I am not sure about Temoc’s religion and views on sex. I know that many USA Native American cultures accepted homosexuality before the conquistadors arrived and forced Catholicism on everyone. I don’t know if this was the same for ancient Aztecs.