Steampunk Review: ‘Three Parts Dead’ by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead‘You’re a mean one, Mr. (Name retracted to prevent spoilers)

You really are a heel’

Ok, I am all in on this one; Three Parts Dead deserves all the praise it has been getting. Suspenseful, gritty, and working in completely unexpected directions; I am not sure what I thought this book was about but I am very pleasantly surprised with the unexpected direction it went.   The very thought of necromancy does nothing for me, but with the possibility of resurrecting a god my ears perk up.

We meet Tara not long after being expelled with extreme prejudice from a school of craft. What is craft? Oh just a bit of necromancy, a bit of power that may be magical in nature, and a path that rivals the gods of the world in strength. And has; a war of craft against the gods is in the past but still very much still remembered. Tara is quickly offered a job to defend the interests of the church of Kos; a god who is suddenly and unexpectedly found to be dead.

Are we tired of books dealing with living gods and the nature of belief? I seriously hope not, Gladstone provides yet another unique telling of the same old story. As has been seen before we have the gods of the land pulling power from belief but there the similarities to any others I have read ends. Kos is not sitting on high playing games with mortals; he is an integral part of his chosen city, a fire god who provides almost everything fire can be used for. He also isn’t immersed within a bubble as there is a complex give and take of power written in contracts between the gods. Tara’s job of resurrecting him is multi-faceted; find how he died in the first place, what other factors were affected by the death beyond the obvious, and figure out just what a resurrected god would be if it is possible.

A tight cast moves the story forward, if not at a brisk pace, at least in a leisurely way the never lags behind. Tara is a first rate protagonist with confidence in abundance. She finds her place after a rough start and starts pulling strings until she figures everything out. Those who help her in her investigations include a junkie who gave herself to the ghost of a goddess, and a chain smoking priest whose faith is strong despite the death of his god.  Plus a few deities and the strangest kinds of lawyers I have ever seen.

This quasi steampunk tale works as the most unique courtroom drama I have seen, shows signs of supernatural adventure, and gives a satisfying mystery to follow. Learning the complex nature of divinity within this world is a satisfying experience. And Three Parts Dead does world building right, giving me just enough in a natural way that leave me wanting to know everything about the land. With the strength of Tara’s story as a driving force this is a great book already. But there is one thing that put this one over the top.

The villain of the story is simply amazing. Creepy, smart, hard to read and truly amazing. You know he is bad, you want to hate him, yet you can’t quite help but admire the resourcefulness and complete domination of the game he has lain down. But then, when you wonder if he is really that bad you watch him commit what can only be called a mind rape; unwitting entry into another. And you feel icky and creepy all at once. And then you watch him meet his match. And it is gorgeous, sheer and simple.

If the book has a weakness it comes from an over reliance of tell and not enough show. Huge chunks of the backstory come out in conversations and large pieces of the puzzle are shown in courtroom style bickering. On their own neither would have stood out to me, but taken together it was a bit too much information though talking. Also as unique as the courtroom setting was in this instance it was a bit too conveniently pushed aside when needed; I couldn’t help but feel that had the parties involved wanted to they could have skipped the judicial system in place all together.

As I say all too often, minor issues in a wonderful book. This one really hit me in all the right ways.

4 Stars

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