Welcome to the wonderful mind of Max Gladstone as we enter through the portal of his Craft Sequence universe with his debut novel Three Parts Dead. He’s been twice nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer award, and nominated for the XYZZY and Lambda Awards. All of these accolades are just the icing on the cake when it comes to the fantastic world, magic system, characters, creatures, and Gods Max Gladstone has created. Three Parts Dead combines two of the most unlikely and polar opposite subjects for a fantasy novel: Law and Magic, but Max Gladstone makes it work. Are you intrigued so far? Lets take a deep dive into this gem.
Let me say right off the bat that even the names of all of Max Gladstone titles is just a hint at the creative genius he is. Even though Three Parts Dead is the first published book in the Craft Sequence, it takes place third chronologically in the series. Book 2 is titled Two Serpents Rise, second published and second chronologically, Book 3 is titled Full Fathom Five and you get the point. All of these books can be read in pretty much any order with no major issues of spoilers even though some of the characters do overlap! Now back to the main attraction.
The story of Three Parts Dead revolves around the death of a god named Kos. Kos is the fire god of Alt Coulumb and he provides energy, steam, and fire to the cities systems. Without his influence, the city will shut down and the citizens will be in all out revolt. Our main POV character, Tara who is a first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart. Tara’s job is to resurrect Kos before all the chaos begins and her only help is Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith. Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was in fact murdered and they will have to prove their case in court, but the truth they are about to unravel will shack the city and the Gods to their core.
Max Gladstone brings an amazing writing style to his debut novel. It is smooth and refreshing while being though provoking and intellectual at the same time. I felt like I was learning something new about the English language every time I read a chapter. Now, I would like to discuss the world building and how the magic system works. “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.”
If people stop worshipping a God, that God essentially becomes powerless and stops existing. More than that, the author describes the worship with the Gods not as faith but as a contract that the god is obligated to fulfill with the human sacrificing a piece of its soul. All of this trading and contracts reminded me a lot of a financial market which relies as much on company data as the belief by investors that everything is running smoothly, until it doesn’t and we end up with a stock market crash. Some people can benefit from a down market, but those are not the people you would want to invite to dinner. This is the world that Max Gladstone has created and it is brilliantly realized on every page.
We are also introduced to several different kinds of creatures including: vampires, gargoyles, and stone golems each serving a specific purpose. Fans of creative magic systems, intellectual writing, financial workers, or even a lawyer will love this series by Max Gladstone. The Craft Sequence is not an unknown in the SFF community, but the viewership could use a little boost!