“We make our own choices. If we are lucky, we last long enough to live with them.“
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.
CW: self-harm, underage drinking, violence, drug use, medical scenes, suicide, gore, body horror, torture
I am SO RELIEVED to say that Full Fathom Five was a far cry from Two Serpents Rise. After the impressive showing in Three Parts Dead, I was terrified the rest of the series would fall flat, especially when Two Serpents Rise failed to really capture me as well.
But oh man, this time around, I fell in love with Kai Pohala, and with everything about the island of Kavekana. It was all so vibrant, so caught between lawful alignments and chaotic alignments and the best practices for doing good in the world, forcing characters into difficult confrontations, and featuring personalities I’m already attached to, even if some of them received shorter time on the page than others.
Kai, of course, was the star of the show. A priestess with the Order on Kavekana, she’s responsible for maintaining the idols that people all over the world pay her Order to maintain. Really, she’s more like an investment banker than a priest as we think of it, which is typical in the Craft world. That frame really digs into the nature of power exchanges in a way that’s not normally conceptualized, and I love how casual it is, how the author trusts the readers to keep up or at least get the gist of what’s going on. It’s refreshing, not having someone metaphorically hold my hand as the nitty gritty of the plot unfolds.
There’s two things about Kai I really love, though. For one, she’s incredibly determined to do the right thing, whatever her reasons may be. She’s not one to lie back and accept what’s happening once she’s got an inkling something isn’t right, and though her methods are unorthodox, she’s unapologetic in her quest to do things right. Really, she’s the perfect battle ground in a character for the morality of lawful good versus neutral or even chaotic good, and I LOVE watching characters war over the best way to do right by the people and world around them.
And two, Kai is trans! It’s wonderful to see a trans woman at the forefront of the story, especially in such an accepted and unapologetic way. She is relentlessly herself, frank about almost everything, and I really like that the magic system established in this series is accessible to trans people in ways that allow them to change in ways that make them most feel like themselves.
The other characters were a delight as well. Not only do we get cameos of familiar faces from the two previous books, but we also meet Izza, a street urchin with a particular connection to a goddess known as the Blue Lady. I absolutely ADORED Izza (it’s really no surprise I got attached to the local thief trying to protect her small band of other local thieves) in particular, though, a new addition as of Full Fathom Five. She’s more than a little jaded, as you might expect of a child forced to live on the streets and steal to survive, but she’s also wrestling with the best ways to do good in her world, and with the question of what remains her responsibility, and what she cannot hope to change.
Plus, Izza ultimately takes a role that had me a little choked up, because it combines a couple of my favorite things along with an act of kindness. Man, I am such a sucker.
But moving beyond characters, I think Full Fathom Five had it all: mystery and conspiracy, a murky list of suspects with a conclusion clear only on the cusp of the fall, imperfect characters acting as they deem right and just in a world that can never be so black and white as that, a city that had so much character and life (incidentally, it’s based on Hawaii!), and the complex nature of the relationship between gods, worship, and the devout.
If Three Parts Dead was the courtroom drama/murder mystery that sucked me into the Craft world, Full Fathom Five is the slower, richer mystery that’s kept me here. Maybe there’s not as much murder, but the stakes are high, maybe even higher, and the characters feel all the more personal to me than Tara and Abelard did back in Three Parts Dead. Cap that off with hints of what’s happened between Three Parts Dead and Full Fathom Five (which we’ll learn the whole truth of in Four Roads Cross!), and this was a read impossible to put down.
I don’t regret continuing after the disappointment in Two Serpents Rise. I can’t.