I recently finished Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Both the writing style and the fresh fantasy world make this an interesting read. Let’s have a look.
Normally, I start with a short intro about the plot of a book. In this case, I need to explain something about the world first.
The book is the first in a five book series about a world where people have found a way to wield the power of the gods for their own purposes. These Craftsmen and women wields godly power, but not for free. The power of the Gods works through contracts between worshipers and deity, and is powered by the stuff of souls.
The Gods were none too happy that people were wielding their powers, and a few decades before the story, there was a war between Craft wielders and the Gods. A war the Gods lost.
The details are more complicated, but I have to say I envy Gladstone’s inventiveness. He’s managed to create a magic system that is both fresh and interesting. It mixes science and magic in a such a way that the plot can hinge on the magic without losing its mystique.
Tara is a graduate of the Hidden Schools, otherwise known as a Craftswoman. She’s hired by the firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, and sent to the city of Alt Coulumb. Alt Coulumb is one of the few cities that still has a god, Kos, but he suddenly died. Tara and her mentor are tasked with resurrecting him. This brings her into direct conflict with one of her old teachers of the Hidden Schools.
Three Parts Dead manages to mix the right amount of the magic of discovery with a murder mystery. One of the staples of the fantasy genre is the discovery of new worlds. This can lead to long boring descriptions, but Gladstone cleverly manages to intertwine the exposition with the mystery and character arcs so it never becomes boring.
The main character of Three Parts Dead is Tara, whom I already mentioned. She graduated from the Hidden Schools, but was also tossed out – literally – upon graduation. And since the Hidden Schools fly, this was almost fatal for her. Since her graduation, she’s been searching for her way in life.
The second main character is Abelard, a priest of Kos. Abelard is a chain-smoker, in honor of his God, Kos the God of Fire. However, with Kos dead, his protections against the negative effects of smoking have been stripped. When Tara shows him the world of the Craft and what has happened to his God, Abelard has a bit of a crisis of faith.
Tara’s mentor is Elayne Kevarian, an experienced Craftswoman who hired Tara. She’s experienced in her field, but feels that she might have mishandled things in Alt Coulumb the last time she was there. Decades earlier she worked with a man called Alexander Denovo to resurrect a Goddess in Alt Coulumb, with mixed results.
That leads to Alexander Denovo, Tara’s old teacher at the hidden school and Elayne Kevarian’s old partner. His opposing take on how to apply the Craft leads him into direct conflict with Tara and Elayne Kevarian. He has other plans for Kos’s resurrection, none of them good.
All in all, a varied cast, with interesting conflicts between them.
A note on reading order
I’ve just finished reading Three Parts Dead and its follow-up, Two Serpents Rise, but I only now found out that this is not the only order you can read the books in.
The actual chronological order of the five books of the craft sequence is determined by the numbers in the book names, as explained here.
So, I actually read the first two books in reverse chronological order. Interesting. I’ll just continue in publication order, but if you read this before you start, you could try the chronological order as well.
This book is something else. If you’re done with the standard Epic and Sword and Sorcery Fantasy, this is the book for you.