Imaginative and unique, think of City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett with a little touch of Sanderson’s magic system and you’ll get Three Parts Dead.
Three Parts Dead is Max Gladstone’s debut novel and it’s the first installment in his Craft Sequence series. Ever since I finished and loved The Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett, I’ve been craving for a similar kind of urban fantasy series to read. Readers and reviewers have directed me towards this series and I’m really glad they did. Three Parts Dead reminded me a lot of the vibe I found in City of Stairs and I highly enjoyed reading this gem.
Kos, the fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb is dead. Without his existence, the city’s steam generators will shut down, stopping the trains, and the millions of citizens in the city will riot. Tara Abernathy, the first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao; together with Abelard, the chain-smoking priest of the dead god, both of them have to resurrect the dead god before chaos erupted. The blurb hinted at an intriguing plotline and the book delivered. Three Parts Dead discussed a lot on faith, justice, and the relationship between humanity and their gods. This is not an uncommon topic in the fantasy genre, a lot of great authors have done this approach and I think with that in mind, Gladstone was still able to deliver a great discussion on the topic.
The characters were well developed, original, and diverse. There were some moments where I thought some of the characters were unimportant compared to the others but by the end, I realized how wrong I am. Gladstone prepared everything for the last chapter and epilogue of the book. You just have to be patient and believe that everything has a reason. Believe me, the actions in the last chapter of the book was surprisingly godlike, especially considering how small the sizes of this book relatively.
During my time of reading, I was continuously fascinated by how imaginative every factor of this book was. Necromancy, Craftsmen flying on lightning bolts, city-ruling gargoyles, floating cities, and Courtroom of Craft (this part was absolutely brilliant) were just a few things on how originally brilliant and well-crafted—see what I did there?—the world-building was. I also loved reading Gladstone’s prose. Although Bennett’s prose in City of Stairs suited my preference more, Gladstone has a clean and engaging prose that really compelled me to continue reading; this book is his debut so I expect that his prose will only get better moving forward.
“The Craft, young Abelard, is the art and science of using power as the gods do. But gods and men are different. Gods draw power from worship and sacrifice, and are shaped by that worship, that sacrifice. Craftsmen draw power from the stars and the earth, and are shaped by them in turn. We can also use human soulstuff for our ends, of course, but the stars are more reliable than men.”
Admittedly, as much as I loved the magic system, it was also the factor that diminished the quality of the book for me. Don’t get me wrong, Craft was a great magic system. It was complex, highly imaginative, destructive, badass, and original. However, I wish Gladstone spent some more time on explaining the magic system, there were some repercussions to using it but from what happened in the book, there weren’t any proper limitations on its usage. Because of this, fully understanding the mechanism of the magic system became difficult and a lot the usage felt out of the blue, too powerful, and sometimes too convenient. I hope the sequel or the rest of the series will explore more on this because right now, despite how much I enjoyed reading the book, I also feel like I’ll be content with stopping with the series here if there’s no significant improvement in the sequels. I guess that remains to be seen.
Minor issue aside, I truly enjoyed reading Three Parts Dead. I think Gladstone has created a great debut that melded fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, and steampunk together wonderfully. I totally recommend this book to any urban fantasy readers and and anyone who loved City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett like I did will most likely have a great time with this one as well.
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