1 December, 2022

LitStack Rec: My Misspent Youth & Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead3 parts
and the other books of The Craft Sequence
Max Gladstone

With all the hoopla recently over President Obama nominating Merrick Garland as the next Supreme Court Justice (and the Republican Party vowing to oppose any nomination regardless of merit), I thought it would be the perfect time to recommend (again!) the Max Gladstone fantasy series “The Craft Sequence”.

On his website, Mr. Gladstone describes “The Craft Sequence” – four books (so far) and a game (for iOS, Android and Steam) – as legal thrillers about faith, or religious thrillers about law and finance. He goes on to say of the books: “…there are hive-mind police forces, poet gargoyles, brainwashing golems, nightmare telegraphs, surprisingly pleasant demons, worldshattering magic, environmental devastation, and that deepest and darkest evil: student loans.” In other words, akin to our own world, and yet so decidedly different.
Some have categorized these books as “cyberpunk fantasy”, even coining the term “faithpunk” to address the role of religion in Mr. Gladstone’s universe. But he shies away from these terms:

“I’m wary of -punk descriptions attached to things that aren’t actually, you know, punk; there’s a sort of inverse punk thing at play in my books, in that many of the characters are working within a deeply compromised system and trying (with varying degrees of success) to make it better.”

Bottom line, it’s intriguing to read a book, or series of books, where the characters are not trying to overthrow the system, or subvert the system, or ignore the system, but work creatively within the system – flawed as it may be – to deal with the complex issues inherent in a unique and diverse society.

Full disclosure: I have only read the first book in the series (the first published book, not the first one chronologically), Three Parts Dead, so it’s the only one I can technically recommend. But I enjoyed it so much, I went out and bought the next two, and am in a constant state of guilt for not yet finding the time to read them.

In Three Parts Dead, Tara, a junior associate at an international necromancy firm, is hired to resurrect a god who has unexpectedly died; she must do this before his city degenerates into disorder and chaos. But when she discovers he was murdered, the stakes ratchet up far higher than she anticipated (or maybe that was part of the plan all along).

Tara is marvelous: plucky, convinced of her own value, an accomplished practitioner of the legal arts, a smidgen too confident for her own good. But she’s also a realist, willing to get her hands dirty – literally – when the situation warrants. Add in a chain-smoking priest (for him, it’s an act of devotion) and bosses who are playing at their own game, and you have an amazingly entertaining tale set in a unique universe that – just like our beloved legal procedurals (but more complex and nuanced) – keeps you guessing until the very end.

Each of “The Craft Sequence” books (Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, Full Fathom Five, and Last First Snow) can apparently be read in any order, so it doesn’t matter which one you pick up (first), but I can heartily, unequivocally recommend Three Parts Dead. And I’m confident that the others in the series will be well worth the read, as well.

—Sharon Browning