“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.
CW: smoking, violence, gore, addiction, loss of a loved one
About three and some years ago, I read Three Parts Dead for the first time in my freshman dorm. It was a weekend, my roommate was out, and I had the room to myself.
Thank goodness, because I GASPED at the end of this book, then promptly scurried off to Twitter to tell Max Gladstone how freaking SLICK an ending it was. That experience has stuck with me, and I’m so relieved to say that it was just as incredible the second time around. In fact, in a lot of ways, it was even better, because I could spot the brilliant foreshadowing that paved the way for the conclusion. And of course, because I could enjoy its stellar features all over again.
I’ll say first that the only reason this isn’t a five star review is because, in a lot of ways, Three Parts Dead has the flavor of a courtroom procedural. It has magic and gods and abuses of power and action sequences, but to some degree, it is focused on gathering evidence to secure a victory in court. In most cases, I really can’t stand courtroom procedurals, and just enough of that leaked through here to bring the rating down by half a star.
If you look at it from the other angle, though, I gave a courtroom procedural four and a half stars despite generally disliking the genre. Which hopefully gives you a sense of how mindblowingly amazing this book is!
Part of the power of Three Parts Dead is the prose, which moves at a brisk clip, yet still manages to spin out a few particularly striking sentences that peel back the curtain on layers of the world. I can’t get over how smoothly it all flows, how swift and sensible with an undercurrent of chipper but grim humor rising to the surface with excellent timing. I hope more than anything that the rest of the Craft Sequence keeps up this particular voice, and that This is How You Lose the Time War (uh, time travel enemies to lovers f/f? I swear I’m working hard to get my hands on a copy, since it’s RIGHT UP MY ALLEY) has a distinct voice of its own as well!
Another feature of Three Parts Dead that delivers in full force is the sense that the world is so much bigger than what you actually see through the eyes of our protagonists. Alt Coulumb is a fully functional city, but you don’t get all its secrets in one book, and you are made well aware of previous conflicts and current nations without diving too deep into the history. In my omnibus edition, Gladstone wrote that this is what he was aiming for: a setting with character and depth, one that cannot ever be fully understood, but one that can become familiar. I think without a doubt that he succeeded, and I’m so excited to dive into the rest of the world!
Speaking of which, the numbers in the titles of the Craft Sequence can be…a little bonkers. In terms of publication order, the series goes Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, Full Fathom Five, Last First Snow, Four Roads Cross, and Ruin of Angels. However, in the chronological universe, you actually proceed by number (Last First Snow, Two Serpents Rise, etc.) with Ruin of Angels at the end! It can be read either way, since each book is a distinct story tied into a larger world and a far longer arc, and then Ruin of Angels lacks a number because it is essentially the start of a new arc of stories in the world of Craft.
And finally, I want to mention the plot again. While in part a courtroom procedural, it has elements of action and mystery to it that I enjoyed immensely, not to mention a plot laid out with total precision. On your first read, the city of Alt Coulumb will give you the feeling that you need to step back and drink it all in, that you want to see beyond what Tara Abernathy is chasing in her effort to secure her place as a Craftswoman in Elayne Kevarian’s prestigious firm. On your second read, though, you’ll see every detail that was hidden in plain sight along the way, every tiny little thing that you thought was insignificant until it wasn’t, and it will all pay off in the end, tying in the neatest, most satisfying bow.
I can’t recommend Three Parts Dead enough, I really can’t. I wouldn’t have guessed before I first read it that magical lawyers and dead gods would be so appealing to me, but after two reads through this novel, I can’t imagine letting this fade quietly into the background of my life again.