Because all of life is stories.
Read fantasy, or any genre really, long enough and any reader who is looking fairly closely can begin to see the component parts of each story. If you’ve been at it long enough we can all see that the princess will be rescued, the villain will be defeated, [insert trope here] will lead to other [insert other trope here] and so on and so forth into infinity. A lot of authors are very very good at setting up these tropes and expectations and subverting them or turning them on their head as a way of keeping the story fresh and keeping the reader guessing. Other authors take bits and pieces of story or life that most people simply wouldn’t think to combine and create something new and unique and precious.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Max Gladstone has taken a few unlikely parts and brought to life something unlike anything I’ve ever read.
I’m sure when most of us go looking for an exciting new fantasy to read we don’t think about learning the finer points of finance and claims court of any fantasy world we live in. Most fantasy worlds don’t bother to get into finance beyond naming their currency, be it a white iron crown, a talent, pennies or just simple gold pieces. Three Parts Dead creates a world around the economy of magic and faith and soulstuff that is just as fascinating as any magic system or secondary world I’ve ever come across.
Three Parts Dead follows a young and fiery intern at a magic law firm, her frankly terrifyingly competent boss, a young priest who is forced into a test of faith, and a cop who takes orders from the stitched together corpse of a dead goddess. When a god dies in a city that runs, lives, and exists by way of his power, creditors come calling. Because gods in this world gain power through faith, and earn that faith by entering into contracts with citizens and business interests. In exchange for a part of the god’s power, they pay back with interest energy that comes through faith and worship. And a dead god means bargains going unfulfilled. It means vultures and greedy business ventures swooping in to take what power is lawfully theirs from the remains of a dead god. It is left up to Craftspeople, sorcerers who use starlight and the earth below them to work the power of the gods, to see that the case is treated equitably, and in the case of Tara Abernathy and Elayne Kevarian, to make sure that a church badly in need of its lost deity can hold its creditors at bay long enough to bring a dead god back to life. When a case as big as this rises though, complications follow. A murdered judge, flocks of rogue gargoyles, stolen faces, and far-reaching conspiracies threaten to topple any case before Tara can help win it.
I know I’ve mentioned the economy of this world already, but really it’s only one of many unique and fascinating bits that make up the world of the Craft. Town criers get their news from around the world via the nightmare network. Deathless Kings sign treaties with skeletons and ghosts from the beyond in exchange for trade rights. Judges take on aspects of darkness and skewer themselves with lightning to determine truth. So many parts of Gladstone’s world build upon each other to create an urban fantasy that feels fully lived in and original and compelling. Every turn introduces something new and fresh about a world that already bristles with originality. And as the series grows and travels around the world (And also in time) more and more of Gladstone’s world leaves its mark on the page.
And the characters! I know I harp on and on about interesting characters. Finding deep and compelling characters can sometimes be difficult in a largely plot driven genre. The best ones – hell, the competent ones – have proactive characters that drive the plot forward and live and work according to their own motivations as opposed to reacting to the plot or simply being devices for carrying the reader from set piece to set piece. Abelard is a young technician (read here as priest) who was unlucky enough to be standing watch when his God died. Forced into helping Tara and Elayne, two Craftswomen, he is torn between faith in his God and belief that heretics may really be trying to help him. Catherine ‘Cat’ Elle is a member of Justice, and also an addict to the highs accompanied by a vampire’s bite. When Justice calls a dead god’s power coats her in an obsidian suit and transforms her into one of hundreds of “Blacksuits” that tirelessly and relentlessly protect the people of Alt Coulumb. But how do you protect a dead god? Much less bring his killer to Justice? Tara…let’s talk about Tara. Tara is a young black woman who seems destined to become one of the greatest Craftswoman the world has ever seen. When she is thrown, quite literally, from the Hidden Schools floating high above the world she is given a chance to join one of the most elite firms of Craft in the world. She just has to figure out how a god died. And how to prove in court that he shouldn’t be partitioned off into tiny pieces. She’s powerful, stubborn, brilliant, intuitive, and just all around awesome. She has a lightning knife! She has armor made out of starlight and darkness! She beats people up with not just powerful magics and fighting skills but with knowledge and cleverness and a library card! MORE TARA ABERNATHY!
I will now go hunt down more Craft books. Happy reading out there. Beware tweed.
As an aside, this happens to be our 50th book review!!!
*Fires cupcake cannon into milling crowd*