Even without the John W. Campbell nomination, it has been impossible to miss the buzz surrounding Max Gladstone on the internet. He is almost universally praised and caught my eye especially with the gorgeous covers that grace his books. I couldn’t wait to jump into this secondary world lawyering story where gods can die and gargoyles move. Did I mention how much I love gargoyles?
THREE PARTS DEAD
by Max Gladstone
Published by: Tor, 2012
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: The Craft Sequence #1
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: God wasn’t answering tonight.
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.
Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.
This was such a blast. Meet Tara Abernathy, kicked out of magician college and promptly picked up by Ms. Kevarian to work for the renowned law firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao. Because a god is dead. Yep, this starts out with a bang and just continues on from there.
Abelard is a priest of the now-dead fire god, Kos, and helps Tara figure out what happened and whether the priests are to blame for his death. This is where the law-meets-magic mumbo jumbo comes in. The world building is difficult to grasp at times, but when it comes to gods and their contracts with the living, it’s pretty straight forward. Power comes in, power goes out, and if you tip the scales too much, bad stuff happens. It is obvious that Kos spent more power than he had at his disposal but the records show that this shouldn’t have been possible.
On their investigation, Tara and Abelard are helped by Cat, a vampire blood addict and a servant of Justice. I could ramble on about Justice, this other goddess who basically keeps the city safe with her police force, but I would inevitable get too excited and stop making sense. Justice’s Blacksuits made for amazing imagery, though, and are probably the most memorable part I’m taking away from Three Parts Dead.
So let me talk about something else instead. I am stunned and surprised and insanely happy about the gender balance of this book. I didn’t exactly keep count but the main characters are three women and three men. Tara is also a woman of color and the protagonist. It’s lovely to see that the cover isn’t just a pretty picture chosen without much thought but it actually depicts the main character. Note the awesome suit and the craft markings on Tara’s arm, please. The artist did such a great job, I want to send a hug their way!
Three Parts Dead is Max Gladstone’s debut novel and I now see why he is nominated for an award. The pacing is spot on, even the side-characters are multi-layered and genuine, the plot is engaging and offers a few nice surprises along the way. I did have some minor problems with the world building in that there could have been more of it. But the author avoided exposition to such an extent that I was left confused at times. At which point the characters or plot put their hooks back in me and I had to read on anyway.
My slightly bigger qualms were about the magic. Tara is a necromancer and can do all sorts of cool stuff with her magic. But I still don’t quite understand how at court, magic battles between two opposing lawyers are supposed to decide on the truth of the matter. Maybe I was unattentive or missed an important line, but I just rolled with it, without really getting it. The battles were well told and with a bit more background knowledge about the working of lawyers in Alt Coulumb they could have been great.
Lastly, I loved how Max Gladstone worked in characters and creatures that have become genre tropes. He gives them a new spin. He has vampires, but they’re neither the sparkly kind, nor the mopey Anne Rice type. He has magicians but no Gandalfs or Harry Potters. Other than in a lot of fantasy books, becoming a necromancer is not something I would immediately jump on if I had the chance. There is a price to pay for being a magic user and it gave me a lot of food for thought. Flying sure is cool, but do I want to become something less-than-human for it? See, it’s not that simple, and that is precisely what made Ms. Kevarian so intriguing.
I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series to find out what new trouble is brewing in the city of Alt Coulumb and I hope I will meet Tara and Abelard again. They have grown on me quite a bit, as have Cat and Captain Pelham. Max Gladstone has created a wonderful world that beautifully sets itself apart from what used to be considered fantasy literature. I’ll check out the other Campbell nominees but they already have very tough competition in Max Gladstone.
(P.S.: Happy Towel Day, everyone!)
- Three Parts Dead
- Two Serpents Rise
- Full Fathom Five