A short while ago, Reddit Fantasy users rated their “most under-rated or under-read fantasy novels”, and in the top five on the list was Max Gladstone’s 2012 novel “Three Parts Dead”. I heartily concur – this is a fantastic book that everyone seems to like but no one talks about.
It’s a book full of familiarity and strangeness. It’s world is definitely not ours, yet it has jarring similarities, such as the use of “Ms.” and “Mr.” as formal prefixes, and professional firms with names such as “Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao”. There are cigarettes and stone gargoyles that figure into the story – but the cigarettes are a priest’s homage to his God of Everlasting Fire and the gargoyles are alive and can take human form. Magic is a given (here it is called Craft), practiced and institutionalized and even at some rate industrialized. Priests are also Technicians. And speaking of gods, they are real and evident and pervasive – and they can die, and they can be killed. And resurrected.
Tara Abernathy is a first year associate at the aforementioned international necromantic firm Kelethres, Albrecht and Ao (on a probationary term, after being “graduated” by force from the Hidden Schools of Craft) who is being mentored by one of the most influential and powerful partners of the firm, Ms. Kevarian. Her first assignment? To bring back the recently deceased fire God Kos before his death shuts down the city of Alt Coulumb, mechanically, practically and politically. But in order to do that, she must first find out why he died – and who or what was behind it.
The ways that author Gladstone weaves together religion, magic, corporate dynamics, myth, international politics, mysticism, professional jealousies, and even courtroom drama is nothing short of marvelous. Tara is impulsive but brilliant, and her anger at being ousted from the academia of Craft serves her well in using the knowledge she has been given and pushing it beyond the boundaries of convention (the “courtroom drama” is not just a catch phrase – there is some serious legal wrangling going on here). “Three Parts Dead” is not a breeze to read, simply because it is packed with so much that is slightly skewed from what we normally would expect from magical fantasy. But it’s a fantastic ride, and I’m awfully glad that there are two more books set in this world, because I can’t help but think they are going to be just as good.