“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.” (via Goodreads)
You ever have the experience of picking up a book and realizing part way through that you’ve read it but have absolutely no memory of doing so? That was me and Three Parts Dead. A twitter recommendation inspired me to borrow it from my local library and two thoughts struck me once I started reading: 1) It was not at all what was promised; and 2) I’d definitely read it before. Sure enough, my Goodreads indicated the second point, all the way back when it first came out. Why it didn’t stick I’ll get to in a bit. As to the first point, the series was suggested to me for it’s queer rep. If there are any LGBTQ characters in Three Parts Dead, they’re queer in the same way Dumbledore was in the Harry Potter books – that is, there’s nothing in the text to indicate it. Have to assume they turn up in later books, but since I picked up Three Parts Dead partly on the promise of queer necromancers, it was kind of a let down. Not that Max Gladstone is responsible for others’ poor recs, but it did somewhat impact my relationship to the novel. Anyway, moving on.
The novel reads much like a serialized TV show. Each chapter jumps between the third person POVs of Tara, Abelard, Cat, Elayne, Cardinal Gustave, Shale, and a couple of townies. Gladstone does a solid job of giving enough of an arc to each despite the constant shifts. Tara gets the most attention as the lead, and she does not disappoint. She’s smart enough to know her limitations, and clever enough to know how to work around them. Her ego never gets the better of her, but neither is she a doormat or weak-willed. Only Shale gets the short shrift, but to be fair he spends most of the story with his face removed and his mind imprisoned. Not exactly a good situation for rich character development, albeit a cool one to put a character into. I don’t read much written by white men, and even if you hadn’t told me who the author was I would know straight off it was a man. But thankfully Max Gladstone avoids the worst pitfalls I usually encounter with white men writing women and women of color.
The worldbuilding is the most impressive element on display. This world is utterly fascinating. Gladstone largely avoids exposition-heavy scenes by feeding background info into conversation. Even when Tara has to stop the action so she can explain something very detailed and technical to Abelard, it feels less like Gladstone infodumping and more like two colleagues discussing a problem.
TBH, the novel is actually quite enjoyable. It’s fun and funny, with plenty of adventure and danger. I genuinely don’t know why it didn’t connect with me the first time around, but the second read-through it certainly did. The plot twists and turns so much I couldn’t even begin to explain it. It’s weirdly complicated and pleasantly intriguing. Gladstone zigs right when you think he’s about to zag and knows just when to throw a wrench into the works. Suffice it to say, the rest of the Craft Sequence has moved up in my TBR queue.
When the Hidden Schools threw Tara Abernathy out, she fell a thousand feet through wisps of cloud and woke to find herself alive, broken and bleeding, beside the Crack in the World.
By the grace of fortune (or something else), she landed three mere miles from what passed for an oasis in the Badlands, a stand of rough grass and brambles clustered around a brackish spring. She couldn’t walk, but made the crawl by sunrise. Caked with dirt and dried blood, she dragged herself over sand and thorn to the muddy pool at the oasis’s heart. She drank desperately of the water, and to pull herself from death’s brink she also drank the life of that desolate place. Grass withered beneath her clutching fingers. Scrub bushes shrank to desiccated husks. The oasis died around her and she crumpled to the arid earth, wracked with wounds and deep illness.
Dream visions tore at one another in her fever, lent strength and form by her proximity to the Crack. She saw other worlds where the God Wars never happened, where iron ruled and men flew without magic.
When Tara regained consciousness the oasis was dead, its spring dry, grass and brambles ground to dust. She lived. She remembered her name. She remembered her Craft. Her last two months in the Hidden Schools seemed like a twisted hallucination, but they were real. The glyphs tattooed on her arms and between her breasts proved she had studied there, above the clouds, and the glyph below her collarbone meant they really did graduate her before they kicked her out.
She fought them, of course, with shadow and lightning— fought and lost. As her professors held her squirming over empty space, she remembered a soft, unexpected touch—a woman’s hand sliding into her pocket, an alto whisper before gravity took hold. “If you survive this, I’ll find you.” Then the fall.
Do the world a favor and buy this from an indie bookstore or get it from your local public library.