Guest review by Lynn E O’Connacht
Reasons for Inclusion: Trans protagonist, lesbian secondary character, predominantly non-white cast.
Publisher’s Summary: 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.
Though Full Fathom Five is the third book in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, it’ll work quite decently as a stand-alone. The roles of some of the secondary characters will take on more significance if you’ve met them before, but Gladstone includes enough detail that readers encountering his worlds through this book won’t be entirely lost at sea. (That said, I do recommend starting with Three Parts Dead. All the Craft books are diverse and they’re a fascinating look at both what magic can be and on the question of faith and religion.)
Kai, the main protagonist of this book, is transgender. The initiation she went through to become a priest at Kavekana’ai allowed her to transform her body into that of a woman. Gladstone doesn’t use Kai’s gender as a plot point and insofar as the book comments on Kai’s gender it’s usually pretty positive. She also spends much of the novel recovering from the injuries she’s sustained in the first chapter and thus spends much of the novel walking with a cane. She’s strong, smart, extremely capable and yet she has her weaknesses. She knows she’s one of the best priests on Kavekana and takes great pride in it. Yet she gets demoted to learn how to work with people and… Well, let’s just say that Kai is not much of a people person.
Izza is our deuteragonist. She’s a girl on the cusp of adulthood that’s spent most of her life living on the street. She’s a storyteller, the one who tells the children under her sort-of care stories about the Blue Lady and Smiling Jack, the gods of the orphans and urchins on the street. When we meet Izza, her goddess has died and she’s watched too many of them die to continue. She wants out. Away from Kavekana and her responsibilities to the children. Especially as she’s old enough for her crimes (no matter how small) to send her into a Penitent like the storyteller before her. Izza is tough and resourceful, but she’s got a strong sense of loyalty and responsibility and she gets caught up in the same conspiracy as Kai.
Gladstone has a knack for taking seemingly obvious plots and subverting them into something quite different. I really enjoy the way his work leaves me guessing about where it’s going to go and it really lends itself well to having a lot of fun with that guesswork. All the same Gladstone deftly ties up the plots he introduces.
The book also doesn’t shy away from asking some really tough questions about faith and religion. All of his books do, given that they’re about clashes between gods and spell-casting humans, but this one is quite philosophical. There’s a scene where the debate comes up in a fair bit of detail and I really love the way that Gladstone managed to balance the two sides of that discussion.
Full Fathom Five was a page-turner and I think it might be my favourite of the first three books.