Lightning-riding Lawyers clash to save dead gods in Max Gladstone’s ‘Three Parts Dead’
If Boston Legal met Damages and decided to set up shop in Faerûn you’d get something similar to the world that Max Gladstone has created here – and it’s a dream come true for a girl like me.
From Max Gladstone’s website:
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.
I came across Three Parts Dead a few weeks ago when I searched for something along the lines of “What to read if you’re in The Broken Earth withdrawal”. Google, being all-knowing as it is, spat out several interesting suggestions, and I couldn’t help but click on the link that mentioned lawyers riding lightning bolts and resurrecting gods (because… really?!). Falling somewhere in the general realm of urban fantasy territory, the debut novel in The Craft Sequence series seemed like a book that might just wow me, so I bought it and got stuck in.
Friends – you need to read it.
As the first published entry (but not chronologically the first story in the series) this book packs in a lot of information about its setting, and manages to never once fall into the trap of info-dumping. From the first scene, where our heroine is literally thrown out of a flying building into a desert, to our introduction to gods and how they work, Three Parts Dead simply keeps it moving along, trusting the reader to understand and sort the information being given. Gladstone manages to straddle the line between informing and badgering his reader through effective use of dialogue, and character perspectives. What the priest knows, our novice Craftswoman Tara Abernathy does not – so he explains. What Tara knows, priest-technician Abelard does not – so she explains. And in this way you’re introduced to a brilliant new world of weird.
No matter what genre you’re writing in, making your characters believable is no walk in the park. They may all exist as fully fleshed out beings in your mind as the writer, but getting that across to the reader without overwhelming them… well.
But just as with his world-building, Max Gladstone works to deliver a main and supporting cast of characters who are their own people (and gods, and entities in between). Their motivations are entirely their own, and he builds his story around them. So when we get to the conclusion of our caper, and all is revealed (wow, are there some revelations going on) you sit there and think… ‘oh yeah, that makes perfect sense, actually. Of course these folks would do that!’
For much of the story, I was happy to sit back and coast along on the tide of excellent storytelling. Then I’d stop and think… ‘hold on. That’s odd. I could have sworn… oh. OH.’
And really… that’s the best kind of storytelling. Read this book!
Honourable Mention: Describing Diverse Characters
There is a certain fear that one feels when one sees the kind of beautiful cover art that Three Parts Dead has. Immediate memories of fumbling attempts in creative writing classes where people described Black hair as everything from ‘wiry’ to ‘ coiled like tiny snakes’ (true story) only to see the picture they were trying to paint and think… Am I being Punk’d?! I’m not even going to go into all the things that I’ve read and heard any skin tone darker than an eggshell be compared to. Let’s just say “like fresh mud” is on the better end.
So how excellent was it to get to the end of this book and realise that I’d been given, through narration, self-description and character perspectives an image of what each character looked like and not once cringed? Very excellent, I tell you. Which is no small part of why I’ve decided to read the whole Craft Sequence. So, kudos for not being cringe to Mr. Gladstone.
Mood Rating: First of all, read this book. Second of all, be wowed. Third of all, read the rest of the series. And drink water.