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Max Gladstone - Three Parts Dead

This is Item 1 in the December Review of Books What Drew Read In 2015. It will be in no way a complete listing, because even leaving out the piles of stuff I read for college, and the YA stuff I get from Kindle Unlimited and which therefore vanishes again, the list came to 54 books.

This is commentary rather than review, rambles madly, and probably contains spoilers.


Three Parts Dead is, I think, the first published book in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence. They're not published in internal chronological order, which seems to be becoming more and more common in the fringe areas of fantasy and sf. And Gladstone's work is solidly fringe-y with regard to fantasy. It's not the New Weird of China Miéville, but it's probably related. No elves, not much in the way of questing, and only the very occasional sword. The undead sorcerers drink coffee.

The setting is a world somewhat like Earth in its distribution of cultures and landmasses. There is no map in the front of any of the books, nor indeed are the trips from location to location important, as they are in traditional fantasy. Three Parts Dead takes place almost completely in one city. Technically, in Farah Mendelsohn's categories, it's an immersive fantasy, but because some of the places have clear analogues on Earth, it doesn't quite fit there either (which Mendelsohn allows for, too).

Let me note up front that the main protagonist is a black woman. That's a good start, I feel. Other characters in the book are fairly diverse as well. The secondary protagonist is from a working class background, and there's no Special Chosen Path for him either. And one of the other characters falls into the weird combination of drug addict/police officer that appears in an almost emergent manner from the setup of their city.

In this world, humans worked out how to do magic for themselves in the last few centuries, went to war against the gods, and more or less won, although it left at least one crack in the world. A few gods remain here and there, a few are present in reduced forms, but most are dead. Religion remains important, though, as souls and belief seem to make things go, and so there are artificial gods, which function a little like Catholic saints and a lot like financial instruments (detailed further in Full Fathom Five). It's a world in which legal contracts and magic are fundamentally the same thing, and in which money and souls are fundamentally the same thing, and in which using magic for a long time turns you into something other than human, despite the world being mostly populated by humans.

It's world-building on a scale and at a level that I haven't come across in a long time. It is in many ways my old ideal of a modern world where technology never happened, and magic drives everything instead. The love of a god powers the furnaces, but they're still real furnaces with connections and engineering.

And there are still literary references and nods to other parts of fantasy and science fiction alongside the glorious, deep, internal consistency. I've actually re-read Three Parts Dead four times now, and I'll probably do so again next year. I've found new details every time.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
chelseagirl
Dec. 8th, 2015 10:32 am (UTC)
I've read the first two books in this world -- you're right, it doesn't read as a series, and I'm told that's deliberate. I've got the third on my Kindle for when I have time. A friend who works at Tor gave me the first -- she was really jazzed about it.

Have you read the others? I liked the Incan inspiration of the second quite a lot.
gothwalk
Dec. 8th, 2015 11:32 am (UTC)
I've read everything he's published so far. I didn't like First Last Snow as much as the others, but I'm still going to re-read it and perhaps like it better on the next run.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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