carol. 's Reviews > Full Fathom Five

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, female-lead, favorites, multi-culti, my-library, supernatural-mystery, my-library-hardcover
Recommended to carol. by: me, natch
Recommended for: fants of Zelanzy, Martha Wells, Liz William's Detective Chen, fans of innovative fantasy
Read 2 times. Last read August 27, 2014 to August 29, 2014.


Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.

–Ariel’s Song, from The Tempest, Shakespeare



Deep breath: a dive into the water, immersed in something alien, and yet familiar. This is the best I can summarize Full Fathom Five, an inventive fantasy that had me riveted, fighting the need to come up for air so that I could just stay submerged a little longer.

It begins with a professional priest, Kai, diving into an infinite pool, attempting to rescue a drowning idol. Or maybe she’s a goddess–Kai is no longer sure which–perhaps the division between her work with idols and the forbidden worship of gods isn’t as clear as she thought. Her superior, Jace and friend, Mara, witnessed Kai’s jump and do not believe Kai heard the idol speak. Kai’s injuries, both spiritual and physical, result in prolonged convalescence and a new position in the order.

In another part of the island, Izza, a fifteen year-old refugee and street thief, is refusing to take lead of her rag-tag group of urchins. The oldest child usually becomes the ‘priest’ of the group, leading and providing solace through stories about their god, but Izza doesn’t want the responsibility. In a moment of compassion, Izza rescues a foreigner, clearly a representative of a god, and thus forbidden. The island Kavekana is one of the few places in the world that has maintained its independence in a world beholden to the power of the gods or the Death Kings. Like a fantasy Switzerland, religious neutrality has financial and power implications; their neutrality has allowed them to sell idols and priests who act as religious savings accounts, allowing owners from other countries to protect, hide, or leverage assets. And, like Switzerland, there will come a time when circumstance will force the island to declare itself, no matter how much the island priests want to maintain independence.

“‘Okay,’ Cat said. She stood and offered Izza a hand up, which Izza didn’t take. ‘It’s not all bad,’ she said as they walked back into the warehouse together. ‘Being a priestess, I mean.’ ‘No,’ Izza admitted. ‘But the congregation can be a pain.’”

Gladstone’s sophisticated writing is one of the pleasures of the book. On the second time through, reading through the scenes at the bar with the poetry slam, I realized that Gladstone reminds me of Zelazny, able to capture a depth of emotional detail without purple prose. Sometimes, it is a little like reading poetry: sentences truncated, occasionally extended; he uses language like an song, conveying meaning with format as much as word:

“Before the cable car, before pilgrims travels from around the globe to Kavekana, before the gods sailed off to fight the world’s wars, priests had only climbed the mountain on holy days: a journey of fear and trembling that began with this walk down a narrow dirt path through dense forest that smelled of motherhood and rot.”

Characterization was done well, particularly considering there was a range of character age and experience levels. Characters were people, not tropes, most clearly demonstrated in the ambivalence and sympathy for the characters working against the leads. I enjoyed Gladstone’s characterization of women in the story–they were well-rounded people, not sexualized props. It is also worth noting that one character is transgender, part of a larger idea of identity, and not mere inclusion for Serious Issues or tokenism.

“Mapping her scars, she imagined her next trip to the beach, once she’d healed.
What happened to you? the boys and girls would say.
Myself, she thought, and showered, and gritted teeth rather than accept the pain.”

Narrative alternates between Kai and Izza, in a third person format. Each section tells the story, in basically linear fashion. The straightforward structure contrasts nicely with the sophistication of the world-building. There’s very little telling here; since the fantasy elements of gods and soul-coins contrast with the urban fantasy feel of tequila shots and poetry slams, it helps to have a linear narrative while the reader pieces the world around them.

Some reviews note plotting was slow; I’d disagree, arguing that the action-driven plot of many books and movies has left us with difficulty appreciating the slow build. Like going for a swim, I know there’s a gestalt experience at the end that will make plodding to the pool and jumping into the cold water worth it. The pleasure is in the warmth through exertion, the thoughts examined in silence, the deep breaths of air, the laughs, the weary muscles at the finish. On the other hand, while I had a a few suspicions where the plot was heading, Gladstone was still able to surprise me with his twists. He really is a clever writer; normally, I focus more character, avoiding thinking too hard about the world politics, but he slips major concepts like religious orders and power brokering in and all of a sudden, I understand the issue. The personal is political, and its a sharp writer who can make that clear in a book without long blocks of text which my eyes have a sloppy habit of skimming over (tl;dr, which I only recently learned stands for ‘too long, didn’t read.’). Somehow, there’s a balance between the smalls steps our characters take as they set down the path to fundamental change, giving a greater appreciation for the struggle and betrayals.

This is the third book in ‘The Craft Sequence.’ Gladstone is doing extremely interesting things with this series, essentially creating each book as a stand-alone story. To date, the books have been set in different areas of his world. In the case of Full Fathom Five, I’d recommend Three Parts Dead be read first, as historical references that play a role in this book are best explained there, along with the reappearance of three characters, one or two who are farther in their own development arcs. It isn’t strictly necessary, but you’ll catch the deeper currents that way. If you are a fantasy fan, particularly of Zelazny’s mesh of inventiveness and language, or Martha Wells’ imaginative world-building, or Liz Williams’ Detective Chen melding divine, urban and fantasy worlds, I strongly suggest you check The Craft Sequence out.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 27, 2014 – Started Reading
August 27, 2014 – Shelved
August 29, 2014 –
page 142
37.17%
August 29, 2014 –
page 142
37.17%
August 29, 2014 –
page 172
45.03%
August 29, 2014 – Finished Reading
September 2, 2014 – Shelved as: fantasy
September 2, 2014 – Shelved as: female-lead
September 2, 2014 – Shelved as: favorites
September 2, 2014 – Shelved as: multi-culti
September 2, 2014 – Shelved as: my-library
September 2, 2014 – Shelved as: supernatural-mystery
October 27, 2018 – Shelved as: my-library-hardcover

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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Sarah (CoolCurryBooks) I gave it the exact same rating. It's a highly enjoyable book, on so many fronts.


carol. Yes. I'm still digesting. Might try and start my review tonight, but it may deserve a re-read. There's so much there!


Sarah (CoolCurryBooks) It boggles my mind that it has so few reviews and ratings. It's really a wonderful book.


carol. I'll do what I can to change that ;)


message 5: by Dan (new)

Dan Schwent Do the three Craft books need to be read in order?


carol. No, but I address it in the last paragraph of my review. I do like Gladstone, and thought about posting it here, but I couldn't resist, since I was off-topic.


Sarah (CoolCurryBooks) Dan wrote: "Do the three Craft books need to be read in order?"

No. I skipped the second one and got along fine with the third. All books follow different characters and stories, so you can read them in whatever order.


message 8: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Goodreads hid a few of my reviews, they've said. *shrug* Such a crapshoot what they'll do and which rule they'll enforce.


message 9: by Benji (new)

Benji Glaab Fabulous review Carol. You seem crazy in love with this series.


message 10: by Evgeny (new)

Evgeny That "recommended for fans of Zelazny" part got me interested :)


Brenda ╰☆╮   Did someone say Zelazny?


message 12: by Evgeny (new)

Evgeny Brenda ╰☆╮ wrote: "Did someone say Zelazny?"

:D My reaction exactly


message 13: by Mara (new)

Mara Are you not doing booklikes anymore? Have they started demanding we be "on topic"? Because, obviously, this will result in my being bounced in no time!


carol. Mara wrote: "Are you not doing booklikes anymore? !"

Nah, BL is pretty, but the database is a mess and I can't screen for the 'progress reading' updates. I post them there when I get around to it, but I hadn't decided how complete my review was.


carol. Evgeny wrote: "That "recommended for fans of Zelazny" part got me interested :)"


It occurred to me last night--I felt like the writing styles had something similar about them, but it is hard to pinpoint how. I loved most of his writing; the Corwin stuff occasionally got purplish, but he had a way of being amazingly evocative without a lot of description.


Bradley Amen on everything you said, Carol. :)


message 17: by carol. (last edited Nov 28, 2016 11:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

carol. Thanks, Brad, and thanks for 'liking' my review, which brought it to my attention--I needed to move it back to GR as Leafmarks folded. :(


Bradley Yeah, I had to read it again, too. Much better this time. :) lol (more complete too) :)


carol. Thanks a second time!


message 20: by Athena (new) - added it

Athena Great review - gotta read this series, thanks!


carol. Yes, you do ;)


message 22: by Athena (new) - added it

Athena :D


Sabrina I like your comparisons to Switzerland (maybe more so because I am Swiss, but probably never completely neutral)


carol. Ha! Thanks, Sabrina.


message 25: by Emily (new)

Emily I just learned about tl;dr too. Makes me feel old!


carol. Ok, I give; I'm missing the reference.

I had to ask for explanation of 'tl;dr' when I first saw it. :)


Emily I almost felt like the slow pace at the beginning kind of felt like "Island Time" in a way. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but it seemed to fit the setting perfectly.


carol. Interesting take, Emily! I really need to re-read this series now that Gladstone seems to have slowed down production.


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