Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books on October 2, 2012
A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.
Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.
Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.
When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.
Since I’ve been more active in the SFF blogging community, one of the books that I’ve heard about constantly has been Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead. Those who had read it couldn’t recommend it enough, and those who hadn’t read it had placed it in a high-priority spot on their TBR. I’m happy to say that I now belong to the former group – those who cannot contain their love for Gladstone’s world and characters.
Three Parts Dead takes place largely in the city of Alt Coulumb, one of the last cities protected by a god. In Gladstone’s world, gods and goddesses live among mortals (and other creatures); the number of these deities has decreased over the last century as a result of the God Wars, fought between the magic-wielding Craftspeople and the gods. Alt Coulumb was especially affected by the wars, as their goddess Seril died fighting. The remaining god in Alt Coulumb is Kos Everburning, a fire god whose power fuels the city.
But somehow, despite all odds, Kos Everburning has died. The city of Alt Coulumb is defenceless and soon its steam-powered economy will collapse. That’s where Tara Abernathy comes in. She’s a Craftswoman who’s recently joined the legal firm tasked with carrying out the fallen god’s contracts. Using their magic, Tara and her boss Elayne must attempt to preserve Kos’s body as evidence for the courts, and possibly even raise him from the dead. Gladstone’s world building is incredible, as he reinvents common portrayals of the divine, magic, and necromancy in order to create something wholly original.
Alt Coulumb is at once highly advanced and appallingly archaic: it is a city patrolled by an unstoppable and incorruptible police force, yet it is riddled with prejudice against the Stone Men (gargoyles and former guardians of the city) and populated by countless pleasure houses and drug dens. Even the priests in Alt Columb participate in some of the city’s seedier activities. Novice Technician Abelard, a devotee of Kos Everburning, is an incorrigible chain-smoker. Not your typical image of priestly devotion, but it becomes a valid form of tribute and comfort when your god – who controls flame – has died. Talk about having a rough week
Tara and Abelard aren’t the only people trying to solve the mystery of who killed Kos Everburning: they are also joined by Cat, Abelard’s friend and a member of the aforementioned police force controlled by Justice. When she’s on duty, Cat puts on a suit and is controlled by Justice, the blind and impartial force that ensures the city’s laws are upheld. Unfortunately Justice isn’t really blind, as Gladstone suggests that even goddesses have their weak spots, areas of prejudice that they cannot overcome. I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to read Three Parts Dead, but let’s just say that Justice really has it in for the Stone Men. Much like Justice, Cat also struggles to overcome her weakness, an addiction to vampire bites. Essentially the heroin of Alt Columb, vampire bites allow Cat to transcend the emptiness that she feels when she’s not wearing the suit and connected to Justice. But like all drugs, the bites only work for so long before Cat must confront her real problems.
While the mystery of who killed Kos Everburning is compelling and Gladstone’s world-building is fascinating, it’s really his characters that elevate Three Parts Dead. It didn’t take long until I had come to care about Tara, Abelard, and Cat, to worry about their failures and fist-pump at their triumphs. I loved them all, but I had a soft spot for Tara. Her steely determination to uncover the truth, coupled with her cool intelligence and thirst for revenge made her a character worth rooting for. If you haven’t read Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead you’re doing yourself a major disservice. Pick up a copy so we can all share in the flails!