I really wanted to make a nice rec post about Max Gladstone because I enjoyed his Three Parts Dead a lot, but I don't think Two Serpents Rise lives up to it. This isn't an anti-rec, but the first book was so good at building up this world of complicated magical/religious politics, magical essence as currency, corporate magic, gargoyles and social revolution (with multiple female protagonists to boot!) that it was a bit of a let down that the second book, set in a completely different city with different protagonists more or less felt the same as the other one, despite the first city being something more like fantasy!modern-Europe and this one being supposed to be fantasy!Aztec. There were some things that worked, like the local sports teams playing what were clear descendants of Aztec ball games, but the feel of the city suffered a lot in comparison to his first book because it was so similar so I'd seen it all done before. Sense of place isn't always the most important thing in a book, but it is a little bit important when it's a book about people running around trying to keep a city going, and when, for example, your cool magical gambling system seems to be used to play very typical European card games, you've missed a trick. There's a point to be made about colonialism if you're talking South American civilisation analogues, but I don't think he made it very clearly, and these were clearly flourishing Aztec-analogues who happened to have made European-analogue contact some time ago, not built off the current South American situation, so either colonialism didn't happen, or you actually have to explain why it turned out differently here. (It's secondary world fantasy, not an alternate universe, I should note, but nevertheless.)
Some of the issues, not Gladstone's fault. I assume he had nothing whatsoever to do with the pale guy on his book cover when he does describe the protagonist consistently as dark-skinned. On the other hand, I think it would have helped some if the fantasy!Aztec-ish protagonist wasn't called Caleb for no discernible reason, especially when it was something of a plot point that his father was a bit of a traditionalist. I mean, someone please correct me if this is in fact a false cognate, but I kept wondering why he had a Christian Biblical name.
Also, while I appreciate that the protagonist's best friend was a lesbian, probably you don't need to be quite so heavy-handed in how often she explicitly reminds him, especially when her girlfriend shows up a fair bit as a far more subtle hint, and especially when it turns out that we were being reminded eighteen thousand times so that in the end someone can attempt to ritually sacrifice her to the gods because lesbian sex doesn't count so she's technically a virgin????? Because FUCK. THAT. NOISE. I don't care that this was the opinion of one of the villains of the piece when it was clear that the objections of the heroes were entirely about murder being bad and not that being BULLSHIT.
The first one I still like a lot, and I will probably read whatever he writes next, but it's a shame that this one wasn't quite as good when city politics over religion and the water supply with both considered equally important is so exactly my kind of thing. MORE URBAN PLANNING, LESS DADDY ISSUES, PLEASE.