Book Review: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone, Three Parts Dead, Craft Sequence, magic, fantasy, gods, diverse books, people of colour

If, like me, you were a fan of Angel, the spin-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer featuring our favourite vampire with a soul (or second favourite, if you prefer Spike – cue Angel muttering “That’s great. Everyone’s got a soul now. You know, I started it. The whole having a soul. Before it was all the cool new thing.”), and if like me, you found yourself rather fond of the powerful and evil Wolfram & Hart law firm and always wondered if anyone was going to write a series about this, well, Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead may just be what you’re looking for.

 

In Three Parts Dead, our protagonist Tara has just been thrown out (literally and from very high up), from the Hidden Schools which is where she learned the Craft (think a darker version of Hogwarts). But Tara’s not lost for long as she is immediately picked up by Elayne Kevarian, a senior partner of the necromantic firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao (or Wolfram & Hart). Her first job? To investigate the death of the recently deceased fire god Kos and possibly resurrect him before news of the god’s death breaks out and all hell breaks loose.

Gladstone has fleshed out a fun, entertaining new world with some very strong, unique characters. In particular, I love all his strong female characters – Tara, Elayne Kevaria and Cat – and I want to learn more about them.  Kevarian, in particular, is a favourite of mine and she’s who I imagine Lila of Wolfram & Hart might have grown up to be if she hadn’t met an untimely death with the possessed Cordelia. Cat’s role as an avatar of Justice in turns reminds me of the shadowy Breach police in China Mieville’s City & and the City with a more human, fragile side to her. As for Tara, I love that she’s such a smart, practical heroine yet isn’t all that perfect – sure, she got thrown out of the Hidden Schools because she was brave enough to stand up to a particular villainous professor, but that doesn’t stop her from manipulating others as well to get what she wants while she’s investigating the case of Kos’s death. Like the rest of us, Tara operates in shades of grey and she’s human enough to experience twinges of conscience that she sometimes listens to and sometimes ignores.

What else do I love about this book? Well, how about the fact that Tara is a PoC- a heroine who is a Poc! Yay! and 2) that Gladstone hasn’t seen fit to make her, Elayne or Cat fall hopelessly in love with anyone. They’re just cool, strong characters on their own who don’t need a lover to complete them. Yaasssss. Thank you, Max Gladstone.

Another thing I really enjoyed in Three Parts Dead is Gladstone’s explanation of theology and how the gods work in his world, what with contractual obligations and a bond with their worshippers that goes both ways. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the obligations between god and worshipper in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but on a far more businesslike scale. And for those who want a bit of romance in their fantasy, yes, there is a powerful love story thrown in there too. It can be a bit hard for writers to describe gods up and personal without turning them into one-dimensional characters (like David Eddings’ gods, for example), but Gladstone does a really great job of humanizing his gods without detracting from their, well, godlike powers.

I’ve been meaning to read Max Gladstone for a while and I’m glad I finally got around to it. I’m looking forward to reading more of the books from his Craft Sequence – they look like they’re going to be a helluva lot of fun.

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