REVIEW: Three Parts Dead

Max gladstone
three parts dead (Craft Sequence #1)
TOR books
fantasy
october 2, 2012

Blurb via author’s site:

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 is Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead God, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

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

Guys and gals, I loved this book. I’ve, admittedly, had a pretty long dry spell with books this year, and every year seems to chip away at my free time even MORE (making it so hard to keep up this place let alone read for pure enjoyment), and such things tend to make me impatient with books that aren’t doing it for me…BUT. That also makes books like this that I freaking LOVED feel so much more, well, LOVED. Now that the mildly fangirlish language has been taken care of, I’ll set aside a brief moment to do a fancy Loved This Book jig all over the place and will be right back.

Nothing comes as a bigger surprise to me than the fact that I enjoyed a book that has largely to do with a religion-based mythology, world and characters. It’s not that I, personally, have anything against religion, it’s just never really interested me as a setting for fantasy novels. And I’ve tried. Oh how I’ve tried. There’s some I really need to get back to and try again, but for now, Three Parts Dead – what a fantastic setting within a world ruled by gods and their fervent worshipers, humans reaching for equal power, and…and! Huge, this book was just a huge enjoyment.

I first noticed this book and posted it in one of my long ago Cover Spotlight posts and I distinctly remember doing so because the author was very nice and commented at the time and also because of the POC main character on the cover. Yes! The main character, Tara looks pretty much exactly as she’s featured on the cover, and she’s such an interesting character, too. We start the book off with her raising a zombie, doing what she’s been born to do, which is to practice Craft. She’s a Craftswoman to be specific and a darn good one too, if inexperienced.

Hold up, you say – what is Craft? Without giving it all away and being tl;dr at the same time, Craft is a lot like what we think of when we think of witchcraft, except it’s not. Make sense? It’s obviously loosely based on the ideas of witchcraft, but the author does a spectacular job of making it into something of his own, for this book and it’s amazingly terrifying and somewhat wondrous altogether a power that certain humans possess. It’s used by characters like Tara and her mentor, Ms. Kevarian, to sort of detect and root out the causes of evil and injustice, while at the same time this well of opportunity just waiting for – and perfect for – corruption. It’s a dubious thing because there are obvious benefits tot he use of Craft, while at the same time we see plenty of horrific ways it’s used, and often with little to no compunction on the part of the user. It creates really interesting shades of gray in this book. I love that! Shades of gray (you know, the “real” fictional shades of gray, not that other mess) often create better characters in my eye, and just about every character in this book possesses those shades on some level.

That being said, those shades of gray in protagonists go to another level, and Tara, who I immensely enjoyed, also did some things I immensely disliked. But the thing is, she faces these issues, too, and acknowledges them. She’s very much aware of the potential harm her own talents and those of other Craftsmen and women could wreak on the world. I think this is why I was OK in the end with some of the questionable things she does. She decides to learn from them and see if she can do better. Better yet, she shows those around her how they’re doing the same thing.

Other characters do this very well, too, Ms Kevarian being another. And this brings me to a point I have to make before I forget – this book has some exceptional female characters and (yeah, I’ve got to say it), they were written by a dude. Not that I haven’t seen this before, but it’s rare. Like, really rare. So rare that I’ve tended to lean way more towards female authors these days in hopes of experiencing good, well-written female characters. Gladstone’s characters, all of them, are imperfect, his female characters very much so. But he gives them just as much agency in this book as any of the male characters and this is just huge for me. I’ve read way too many fantasy or scifi books this year with female characters that should’ve been allowed more voice than as some mere girlfriend or backdrop personality. Yes, it’s true, I don’t get enough time to read, and surely more books like this one are out there, but I mostly find the not-so-great female character books these days. I prefer an equal treatment be given to the men and women, and this book has that. Whoo! After all that, back to Ms. Kevarian – she’s one sly bitch, I loved her and she MAKES the ending to this book SO SWEET. I truly applaud the author for writing kick-ass women who actually kick ass and take names (in ways that show their innate intelligence and cleverness) , male characters who can challenge them but not necessarily overpower them (as per the usual standard) and hell, even work with them! Is the heavenly choir music playing yet?

It’s probably no surprise at this point, but I loved the worldbuilding as well. I know this is a big ‘ole debate in the scifi and fantasy reading world: some feel worldbuilding is important, others not so much. I lean to the very important side. I love love love an original well-developed world to house everything else. I love being able to visualize it and learn new things about it as I read. It’s like that fairytale trail of breadcrumbs, except it leads to something not only delicious, but amazing. And not all…eating-you-horrific. Yeah! That was the world in this book. There’s this Old World and the New World, of which we’re in the New for the most part, in the city of Alt Coulumb, ruled by the god Kos Everburning. And when I say rule, I mean more in the sense that his power and might makes the city run, almost like some kind of steampunk-ish city (but I don’t believe this book is steampunk), and he is a god that actually talks to his people. Gods have the ability to broker deals with human organizations and governments, exchanging a specific amount of their power in return for a later bigger return on said investment. People can even pay for something as trifling as a cab ride with such power, if they possess it, Craftsmen and women for example. There are places and business ruled by Deathless Kings. Raising a zombie as Tara does for her rural, removed small village is a good thing – they’re good protection against raiders! Craft can be used to fly with not a single contraption around them as  a vehicle. There are priests and vampires and addicts galore.

The addiction side of life was particularly interesting. The book takes a look at addiction in many different ways. There’s the way Abelard, a young novice priest in the church of Kos Everburning, is addicted to his cigarette smoking because it’s a tribute to his god, despite the obvious ill effects it has on him. There’s the sense of worship to a god itself as an addiction. There’s the addiction to power, whether Craft or gained by serving a god or goddess, the latter of which we see in Cat, a servant to the goddess Justice. When Justice calls on her or any of the vast number who also serve Justice, but the fight is over and Justice served, they’re left with such an aching, empty feeling. Only more of being filled with Justice’s power can suffice or other vices one must get in a back alley or seedy club fill the void instead. I enjoyed this aspect of the book so much and this is what shows the imperfections of the characters so well, in my opinion, as well as how they choose to face said addictions.

I was never bored once while reading this book. The author’s style and voice appealed – a lot – and there was no middle sag for me. The tension and action ratchets up at just the right point, and we got to read these moments for a decent length of the book, as opposed to things happening too quickly in the last chapter or so and tied up too quickly and neatly. There were some great twists, and this is despite me guessing one of the more important aspects of the villain and his role in it all.

Okay, I could go on and on, but I should leave something for the reader to discover on their own. I’ll end by saying that if I could rewind the time I used to read this book, I’d do so just to experience it again for the first time. That is, folks, a damn good read.

Rating: Five Scoops

Series Order (Different characters feature in 2nd & 3rd books):

  • Three Parts Dead
  • Two Serpents Rise
  • Full Fathom Five (July 15, 2014)
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