Three Parts Dead is a wonderfully inventive story. Max Gladstone blends a plethora of ideas, ranging from vampires to magic to steampunk technology and adds interesting characters and a plot that is predictable but still enjoyable. The result is memorable.
Tara is a recently expelled student in the art of the Craft. A Craftsman or Craftswoman is the equivalent of a magician or sorcerer, someone who has learned how to use the energies of the world to do things that would otherwise be impossible. Tara’s fall from the Hidden Schools — think of a floating university for sorcerers — was both literal and logical: she had to fight her way out of the school before being physically dropped from its heights. Tara’s story is central to the book as she goes from expelled student to local healer to temporary employee for one of the large firms that traffic in Craft-enabled work.
In the city of Alt Columb, the god of fire, Kos, has been killed. This is critical to the city, as his power serves as its driving force. Gladstone creates a unique (and very cool) steampunk framework by which Kos’s power serves as fuel for the city and also as a sort of currency. The priests who serve Kos are naturally distraught at his death and the second- and third-order effects that threaten to throw the world into chaos.
Tara and her senior partner Ms. Kenvarian are sent in response to this catastrophe. Between ascertaining the cause of Kos’s death and preparing for the legal consequences (both theological and secular) that follow, they are heavily tested. Working with Abelard, the monk who was tending the shrine to Kos when he died, and Cat, the vampire junkie/local cop, things begin to get complicated in a hurry.
The war between humans and Gods in Three Parts Dead is fascinating. While the idea of humans learning to harness the power of the stars, the earth and their own life force is nothing new, the fact that it enabled them to fight and win a war with the gods is more provocative. The lasting damage that was done to the planet, the catastrophic upheaval for the normal populace and the eventual peace provide solid support to the logical construct that the world rests on. I also liked the fact that working with magic is not for the faint of heart, that using it has lasting consequences and that normal people don’t trust people who use magic; it makes perfect sense. At the basis of Three Parts Dead is an almost common-sense approach to fantasy. I loved it.