Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 2, 2012

Summary: A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Thoughts: As much as I always end up enjoying a good mystery, it’s never a genre or subgenre that really springs to mind when someone asks me, “What kind of books do you like to read?” Possibly because most mysteries I come across are contemporary, set in modern times in the real world with no supernatural elements to spice up the story. Just people doing what I can see people doing every day. So while the mystery may be good, it often takes the inclusion of a more preference genre to really get me willing to sink my teeth into the story.

Fortunately, Three Parts Dead does just that.

The god of fire has fallen, dead by mysterious means, and it’s up to 2 magical lawyers and a priest to uncover why. Hampering their investigation is a rival lawyer, the same man who got Tara literally thrown out of the Hidden Schools after she reported him for unethical conduct and who had a major hand in transforming a previously dying goddess into the cold and blind Justice that runs the city of Alt Coulomb. Throw in an agent of Justice who is also a vampire-junkie, and a vampire ship’s captain, and you’ve got a weird and diverse cast of characters that provide plenty of interest and intrigue, even if they weren’t involved in the investigation of a dead deity!

I love the world that Gladstone has created. There are a few hints that it’s actually a parallel world, a branch-off from our own world and timeline at some unknown point in history, and the world that has evolved is as complete and complex as our own. Deities arise from belief and feed on it at the same time, growing in complexity and sentience the more people believe in it. There are vampires, there is magic, there are lawyers that can raise the dead if they so desire, there are people who use magic to stay alive for centuries or more, albeit often at the cost of their humanity. It’s beautifully crafted, multi-layered and rich and unlike most alternate worlds or even straight-up fantasy novels. If you want a world that feels so real you could step out your front door and find yourself in it, then that’s exactly what you’ll find in Three Parts Dead.

I can’t stress enough how utterly complete this whole world feels. From the details surrounding the creation of deities and the parts they play in society, to dark pastimes after night falls, to how news is spread differently depending on where you live in the world, it really feels real. It’s plain that the author did a tremendous amount of worldbuilding, and that it’s a large talent of his. It’s the little details, too, the casual comments that get dropped about how things work, that make it all fit together. Yes, this book does have a fair bit of exposition, characters explaining their jobs and specialties for the benefit of other characters, but some degree of that is always necessary when writing a secondary world, and at least it gets done here in dialogue, and at appropriate times and situations, rather than in the narration. It gets a little bit wearing after a while, with characters always explaining, “And then this happens, which is why I do this and get this result,” but it still at least has a purpose, and comes across relatively naturally.

While the reason for Kos’s demise will likely be surprising to readers, the fact that a certain character played a large role in the whole thing (albeit in some ways inadvertently) won’t be anything resembling a surprise. The characters here are very real, each with their own flaws, motives, interests, agendas, but they also are exactly what they appear to be. Tara is eager to prove herself. Elayne Kevarian is cold and calculating (though I think she has the most running below the surface). Abelard is devoted to Kos. You’re not going to find many instances where you think, “I didn’t expect that from them.” And though this leads to a twist ending that isn’t as twisty as it could be, it does leave you with a very strong sense of knowing who these people are, a good sense of familiarity where you’re certain of the characters and their place in things. Gladstone writes very vividly, both in regard to worlds and people, and they all leave a strong impression.

I can see why this series receives such praise from readers. It’s a world that pulls you in, that’s richly detailed and beautiful and ugly and it doesn’t let you go once you’ve fallen into it. I’m very eager to read the other books in the Craft series now, to step back into that world and to see what other magic Gladstone can create with words. This is a series that you shouldn’t miss, and I can tell that just from having read the first one. If the rest of the series is like this, with the same flair for mystery and intrigue and amazingly interesting characters (whether I love them or hate them, I have to admit that they’re interesting), then I’m going to end up a very big fan.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

14 comments on “Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone

  1. Its a deep and rich world I feel right into.

    The other books, generally, do less worldbuilding than this one. This does a lot of the heavy lifting of building up the Craftverse.

  2. This is one of my favorite series, and in my opinion each book is better than the last. Keep reading, because Book 4 comes out this year! You can still catch up:-)

    • Nah, I’m gonna keep talking about how good it is and guilt you into reading it. :p (Don’t feel that bad, though, since it wasn’t until very recently that I read it; I know that “late to the party” feeling all too well!)

      • Noooooooo! Nooooooooooooooooooo! :P (Thank goodness! I got the feeling I was the only person left who hadn’t read it.)

  3. I’m reading the second one now, I have plans to catch up on this series in time for book four as well :) It’s interesting, I didn’t realize they weren’t direct sequels; book two a whole different story, though set in the same world. Either way, I’m enjoying it.

    • I can’t remember who told me that once, but I think I may be incapable of reading a series out of order, even if the stories are standalones in their own right. Chalk it up to mild OCD; it just feels wrong.

  4. Pingback: January in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

  5. Pingback: Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone | Bibliotropic

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