One of the things that’s always bothered me about the fantasy genre is that so many worlds are stuck in a medieval world, as though having magic means not having an industrial revolution. Humans are inventive creatures, after all. That’s part of the reason I enjoyed reading Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone, so much. The world that Gladstone created is so rich and so unusual when compared to other examples of the genre that reading it is a breath of fresh air—at least until you start holding your breath when things get tense.
When we first meet her, our protagonist is falling through the air, having just been violently expelled from the flying Hidden Schools where she has been studying craft for years. Tara survives her fall and limps back home. Before long, Tara offends her home town by resurrecting the hired town guards and is rescued from the mob by a job offer. The offer takes her to Alt Coulumb, a sprawling city that has just suffered the loss of the god that powers everything. In Tara’s world, everything runs on belief and god power. Gods barter their power to humans in return for worship, much like in our own world’s religions but in a startlingly literal way. Without the god, the city will run out of power in a month. Worse, it becomes clear that someone managed to murder the god of Alt Coulumb. Tara and her new boss not only have to solve the case, but find a way to resurrect the god.
I loved reading Three Parts Dead because the author got so many things right. The characters are interesting and well drawn. The plot zips along, but has enough time to introduce the curiosities that the world’s economy created. The setting is richly described. You can almost see and smell the city streets Tara and her allies prowl and race down. But the pace never gets bogged down by overwriting or over-philosophizing. It actually a little hard to write a good review of this book because I’m fighting the urge to gush. (I’m sure the author wouldn’t mind.)
I took a sneaky peek at the plot summary for the next book in the series, Two Serpents Rise, because Gladstone has me hooked on this universe he created. That book features a different protagonist, which means that we’re going to get a new perspective. I hope there are cameos from the characters in Three Parts Dead, but I’m intrigued enough that I want to learn more about the setting.