Three Parts Dead
by Max Gladstone
Edited by David G. Hartwell
Cover Artist: Chris McGrath
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765333100
Date: 02 October 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Max Gladstone provides wonderful characters, plenty of action, and a well crafted world in Three Parts Dead, a tour de force steampunk fantasy with magic (Craft) and living gods. The murder of the last remaining major god brings Ms. Kavarian, an agent of a legendary necromantic legal firm, and Tara Abernathy, an exiled craft worker from the Hidden Schools, to investigate the murder, defend the Church of Kos, and to resurrect the god.
The creditors of the god Kos Everburning are diverse and represented by Professor Alexander Denovo, a man hated both by Ms. Kavarian and Tara. Once the lover and mentor of the former, Denovo had Tara kicked out of the Hidden Schools when she rebelled against his domination. She fell to earth and, although badly injured, managed to survive and return to her family. Unfortunately, when Raiders kill three of the village guards, she revives them by craft and is forced to flee for practicing necromancy.
Tara had met Ms. Kavarian at the Hidden Schools and, when Tara was exiled, she told her she'd find her. As Tara flees the villagers, Ms. Kavarian saves her and informs her she is now a member of the firm, but on trial, and must prove her abilities in a new case the firm has accepted.
As Ms. Kavarian's assistant, she is sent to see Judge Cabot, an ally, only to find him dead. She discovers a gargoyle covered in blood, but he transforms himself into a man. Convinced he didn't kill the judge, she uses craft to steal his face so he can't transform himself. Because the blacksuits, the servants of Justice, found him at the scene, they take him into custody.
Meanwhile, the effect of the god's death permeates through his Church and into the city. By the dark of the moon his fires will cease to provide power and doom the city. The Church assigns an acolyte, Abelard, to work on the case with Ms. Kavarian and Tara. He is timid and chain smokes with no craft powers. However, he learns much from Tara and, while not a craft user, becomes an able and clever assistant.
Tara follows every clue she can find from the archives and legal contracts regarding Kos. She also pursues the involvement of gargoyles. The legal maneuvering with Denovo in court leaves Tara exhausted, but initially triumphant. However, worse is yet to come.
Gladstone successfully combines fantasy, a legal thriller, and diverse, complex characters in a wonderful story. His world building provides a nice change from the usual urban fantasies. With such a successful start, more adventures for Tara are certain to follow.