Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Release Date: October 2 2012
Max Gladstone is the kind of writer who assumes his readers are intelligent. Three Parts Dead might scare some readers off, as it jumps into the amazing world that Gladstone has created with very little explanation, but this is one of the many skillful things he does, and it would be a shame for anyone to give up so easily. So suspend your disbelief for a moment and join me in the city of Alt Coulumb, a city with surprises and wonders around every corner.
You have to be a brave writer to start your story off by throwing the main character off a floating school and letting her fall a thousand feet to earth, but that’s exactly what happens in the first sentence. Tara Abernathy has just been, literally, thrown out of Hidden Schools (for a reason the reader doesn’t find out until later in the book), and while this would kill a normal person, Tara is far from normal. She is adept at Craft, the ability to harness the power of the stars and perform various types of magic, and so she is able to survive the fall, barely. After she recovers she is approached by an enigmatic woman named Elayne Kevarian who offers her a job in the Craft firm of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao. This is where the story really picks up, as Tara and Ms. Kevarian are called to Alt Coulumb to unravel the mystery behind the death of Kos, the fire god who powers the city and keeps it alive.
At the Sanctum of Kos they meet a young man named Abelard, the Technician who cares for the inner workings of the Sanctum that run the city, the pipes and coolant systems from which Kos’ power generates. Abelard, distraught over the apparent death of Kos, is assigned to help Tara get to the bottom of the mystery. When they mystically access the Sanctum’s extensive archives, they discover a clue to Kos’ demise that leads them on a circuitous route through the city where they begin to uncover, layer by layer, the truth behind the god’s disappearance. Along the way they meet characters that both help and hinder their search, including the marvelous vampire pirate Raz Pelham, a gargoyle named Shale, and my favorite character of all, Catherine Elle, a junkie who is addicted to the bite of a vampire but is also one of the Blacksuits, humans who protect the city from crime by allowing themselves to become encased in a hard black suit of armor when Justice calls.
In addition to the amazing world-building and deftly layered story are some of the best-drawn characters I’ve ever come across. Tara is a strong and talented protagonist, and she tenaciously seeks the truth throughout the entire story, no matter what obstacles are thrown her way. At the end of the story she must choose between taking revenge on the man who threw her out of school, or saving her friends, a choice that shows just how human she is. But believe it or not, she wasn’t my favorite character. I loved Abelard, who never loses his faith, even when Kos dies. Abelard’s vice is smoking, and he spends the entire book with a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth. The cigarette is almost a character unto itself, and by the end of the story you’ll understand why.
But my favorite character is Cat, whose fatal flaw is a complete contrast to her alter-ego as a Blacksuit. In a twist on the typical vampire/human relationship, Gladstone has made the vampire’s bite as heady as a drug, and Cat is an addict. Cat and Raz are wonderful together, and I’m hoping the next book in the series delves further into their relationship.
My only quibble with the book is a small one, and it doesn’t change my love of the story at all. But if it were me, I would have switched the last two sections of the epilogue, and ended it on the more sentimental note. I can’t really say more than that without telling you how it ends, so you’ll have to read it for yourself to see if you agree with me.
Gladstone’s imagination is unending in Three Parts Dead. Around every corner lies a new wonder, like the nightclub called the Xibalba, a monstrous building that mimics the circles of hell. Or the way that the buildings have deep gouge marks from the gargoyles flying past and marking their territories. Or the Hidden Schools that hide in the clouds and appear only to those who truly want to study there. And tucked in among all these elements is the world of Craft, the bizarre and frightening magic that Tara is able to draw from a knife made of moonbeams, a knife she keeps lodged near her heart. The story seems stuffed with so many ideas and characters, except it doesn’t feel stuffed. It all feels just right. Three Parts Dead easily makes my Top Ten Books for 2012, and I’m happy to tell you that its sequel comes out next July. If you’re ready for something different, strange and wonderful, this book is highly recommended.
Many thanks to Tor Books for supplying a review copy.