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Full Fathom Five, by Max Gladstone

Review copy provided by Tor.

It’s such a relief when someone is good on panels and pleasant to have lunch with at conventions, and you haven’t read any of their books, and then you pick one up and you like it and can say nice things about it. WHEW. Because saying smart things on panels is not actually correlated all that strongly with writing good books, or we wouldn’t have fans and critics who’ve never written a book at all on panels in the first place.

But here we are, Full Fathom Five! It’s the story of an island “paradise” that’s home to street children, bars, poetry slam taverns…and a consortium of spiritual consultants who have re-formed their bodies in large ways and small to become priests and priestesses who create gods (of sorts) to fit their clients’ needs. The idols live, after a fashion, while their ties to belief, soulstuff, and the other fundamentals of divine survival are strong enough. When their support network ebbs, it’s time for them to dissolve back into the waters.

In one case–not even a case that starts out special to her personally–Kai can’t quite accept that and dives in after the idol Seven Alpha, and that’s where all her trouble starts. She’s dragged from the water with her body still partly broken (and oh, the physical therapy and disability stuff, yes, definitely so) and has to figure out what the heck is going on with this particular idol–and with the rest of her order and the world she thought she knew.

Meanwhile, Izza and her gang of co-religionist street kids are finding that their gods are appearing and being eaten, one by one. She tries to help foreigners who can help her and tangles with various authority figures while she tries to steer clear of the enforcement that threatens as she approaches adulthood: a sentence to the inside of a torturous rock exoskeleton called a Penitent. Her life to date has taught her mistrust of pretty much everyone, and her gods’ disappearance doesn’t help.

This stuff is great fun, and the chapters are short and zippy. The parts where the idol-builders are talking to their clients about their soul-investment needs are flat-out hilarious. The plot is engaging, and I’m eager to get the rest of the books in this world. Hypothetically this is third in the series, but I’m living proof that it’s a great entry point. Go ahead and start here. If you’re missing something, it’ll be no hardship to reread later when you know what it is you’re missing, but honestly, I didn’t feel like I was shorted on any element of story from not having read the earlier Craft books.

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