Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I don’t really like the cover and the blurb doesn’t do the book justice. The author creates a unique world filled with compelling characters and a great story. I’m always looking for fantasy books that do something different, that elevate themselves from the rest of the genre through new ideas. This is one such book.
We follow Tara Abernathy, a necromancer/magic user, on her quest to find out more about the death of Kos, the fire god of Alt Coulumb. As you can see on the cover, she’s a strong and intelligent woman that doesn’t crack even under pressure. She’s perfect to unravel the labyrinth of Kos’ death. Her helper is the chain-smoking priest of Kos, Abelard. Though there are a whole cast of interesting characters, each of them follows their own agenda.
The characters in this book are each and all unique and often more than they seem at first. Apart from the protagonists, we have powerful beings, vampire pirates, Justice and her minions, and gargoyles, just to name a few. You won’t know for a very long time which of these the good guys are…if any. These characters seem real with their problems and worries, their good sides and their bad sides. They are as ambivalent as real humans. When you read this book, you cannot help but root and fear for the characters.
The setting is great too. It is as unique as the characters. Especially how the distribution of power works is very interesting. Power can be lend through contracts, and these work as we know from our own time: very complicated and with people trying to abuse everything that’s not clearly stated or that they can simply bend to their wills. The strength of the setting lies in its interesting worldbuilding. While we only see a small part of this, there is much more hinted at. I hope in later books we get to see more of the unique places of the world.
The story snakes its way through a maze, with the reader often in the dark. We follow the heroine through a fast paced pursuit of clues and hunches that lead to a great ending. Throughout the journey we learn more about the world, its past, and the past of the main characters. The story starts small, but gets bigger with every page, with an investigation that leads into darker and more dangerous terrain with every step. While the story has action and is fast-paced, I like that the clever use of magic prevails over the hurling of fireballs and that the investigation doesn’t leave dead bodies behind in the dozen.
This is a book for everyone that wants to read something different from the usual fantasy tropes. And even those that normally don’t venture far from their comfort reading zones will find a gem in this book. I’m looking forward to reading more from Max Gladstone!