You can probably guess I enjoyed this book a lot from the title. One of my favorite things when reading is to stumble onto a book that gives me a new experience. It isn’t required for a book to be great, but it can rapidly catapult a book to the top of my reading list. If you create something that I can get nowhere else, I am willing to forgive a lot of flaws in an author’s written prose, and if there aren’t a lot flaws then you have written something that will sit in my top tier of books. So what is Three Parts Dead, and what does it offer that I haven’t seen before? Read on to find out.
Let’s start with the what; Three Parts Dead is the start/middle of the Craft Sequence series by Max Gladstone. I say start/middle, because it is both the first published book in the series and the middle chronologically of the story. This is confusing as all hell, but Gladstone published a piece apologizing for it and explaining about the reading order here and you can learn more about the pros and cons of reading in chrono vs. publish order here. In a one line summary, Three Parts Dead is about necromantic lawyers hired to resurrect a recently deceased god. The book follows two major protagonists, the first being Tara, a recent graduate of magic college who has just been hired on at a large law firm and is out to prove herself. The second is Abelard, an entry level initiate in the faith of Kos Everburning, a deity who governs and powers a major metropolis, and who has just keeled over. Tara essentially partners up with Abelard as a key witness, and the two of them set out to discover a) how the god was murdered and b) if they can bring him (or something that resembles him) back. They are supported by a cast of side characters who are also phenomenal, and while you spend a chapter here and there in their heads, the book primarily is kept between Tara and Abelard.
Which is fine, because those two are fantastic. The character building in this book is deep and captivating. On top of our multidimensional protagonists, the antagonist is one of my favorite of all time (the smarmy teacher/boss you have always wanted to punch in the face as hard as humanly possible). The magic in the book is unbelievably complicated, but Gladstone takes the time to lay down some ground rules and guide you through. This is important, because the lawyering is also done to an impressive degree and fits rather nicely within the confines of his magic system. The world building is also fantastically well done, with Gladstone constantly name dropping places, people, and things with enough exposition to get you craving more details, but never explaining everything. However, all of this falls short of what this book does best – workplace wish fulfillment.
Being an adult can be truly terrible. When I am not writing this blog, I am working full time in an office at a job I love, but which can be unbelievably frustrating. In addition, I have had other jobs that I did not love, working with people who were impossible. This book is the first fantasy/sci-fi experience I have had that gives you workplace wish fulfillment – dealing with shitty bosses, succeeding at a new job, getting back at the impossible client. It fulfilled a lot of deep workplace fantasies that I didn’t even know that I had. Wish fulfillment is a really powerful force when it comes to enjoying a book. Someday I will write a piece on how I think The Name of the Wind is successful because it is a giant wish fulfillment without you realizing it. Wish fulfillment lets you fulfill deep fantasies and experience your ideal life, and it is usually contained to being a child with a destiny of greatness in fantasy. Three Parts Dead instead focuses on two new hires trying to make it at two different companies of sorts, and the trials they go through on the job. Reading this book made my job more enjoyable for a decent period after it. The antagonist I mentioned before was the perfect strawman for every bad boss I have had, and several passages gave me satisfaction that I felt deep in my soul. If you have ever had a job you didn’t find completely fulfilling (so all of you over 21), this book will likely speak to you.
Amongst all this praise there were two areas I would like to see improved as I move into the sequels. The magic system was interesting and detailed, but at its core Three Parts Dead is a murder mystery, and I did not feel like I had all the tools to solve the mystery myself, This meant that the book became more about waiting to be told what happened, rather than trying to figure it out myself, which is always part of the fun in mysteries. The second complaint, is that Gladstone introduces an incredibly interesting city for the stage of Three Parts Dead, but does not explore it nearly enough. We get to see several key areas, but I was left wanting more as I failed to get a great sense of the city as a whole.
Other than those issues, the book is a blast from cover to cover and has one of the most satisfying endings I have read in awhile. I am extremely confused by the order of the books and hope that the overarching plot line does not suffer from all of the shuffling. However, with its focus on creative magic, the Craft Sequence is off to a strong start for making it into my top tier of books. The Quill to Live absolutely recommends you go out and pick up Three Parts Dead right now.
Rating: Three Parts Dead – 9.0/10