Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Three Parts Dead is a fantasy novel that teases at the senses and perceptions of the reader. Gladstone takes some fantasy concepts and weaves them into a creation that has its own flavor and feel. It's not urban fantasy in the common sense. It's not epic fantasy, either. It's a novel that forges its own path.
Gladstone takes the sticky territory of faith and belief in a deity and asks the reader to trust him and to follow where he's going. For those readers who are believers in God and who consider themselves religious, it will take some trust not to assume that Gladstone is attacking the system of belief and devaluing it. In fact, he gives the reader something to ponder and does not do this at all. While I don't believe that my God needs my faith to keep him alive, I did like how Gladstone examines the intrinsic relationship aspect of faith. Faith requires trust in your God. Faith requires a commitment to keep believing despite what circumstances may show. In the case of this book, the character of Abelard acts as a stand-in for a person who lives a life of faith. The struggle that is inherent in living in a world in which belief in God is steadily becoming an oddity and many have rejected such an idea and consider it irrelevant. With Abelard, he faces that crisis of faith and that anguish of being confronted with the idea that his god doesn't live anymore, and the hole within that comes from that lack of communion with him. At the crux of faith is that understanding that what one believes does benefit that person, even when others lack an understanding of how this happens.
Tara represents the skeptic. The person who has trained herself not to subscribe to a faith-based way of life. Tara feels that she has it together, and has all the power within to make prescribing to faith in God unnecessary to her life. She feels with her education and her life, she is above having faith in a deity, and almost has a smug way of looking at Abelard because she sees things on a higher intellectual level and outside of his faith-based worldview. While Tara treats Abelard kindly, underneath there is a smug attitude that she'll show him that he doesn't need God. That the concept of a deity is just something that can be used to achieve some sort of end-goal. Look how well she's done. I'm not picking on Tara here. I'm just commenting on how her character acts initially in this book.
Both Abelard and Tara are younger people, who have a ways to go in their life experiences, although what they have experienced is not to be dismissed. Both have a lot to bring to the table, and I feel they learn a lot from each other, and working together, they can achieve an important purpose in this novel.
And then there is Cat. Cat's character is not as well developed as Abelard and Tara. I felt that she is in transition and hasn't learned who she is as a person, what her identity is. But in that, she is a stand-in for that person who is searching for something to ground them in their lives. Who they are and what they stand for in this life. How does faith or lack thereof tie into this?
The world-building is its own character. Gladstone doesn't give much of a frame of reference, because Alt Coulomb, the home of Kos The Everburning feels modern and ancient. The city's very machinery is powered by the god they pay homage to. You have touches of modernity, and even with Tara's agrarian origins, it feels as though the story is set in the present, but in a different world. The idea of Justice and the Blacksuits was another concept that was both alluring and unsettling. I have to say that with the teasing touches that I get in this book, I end up with more questions and wanting more of this world-building. This world that Gladstone created could easily sustain several books.
I absolutely loved the idea of the gargoyles. How they had made their mark both literally and figuratively on the city. The buildings were scarred by their talons. The descriptions of their unworldly and intimidating beauty spoke to me as a visual artist.
The concept of craft and magic was also alluring in this story. The manner in which Tara used her powers. The concept of altering reality through the use of craft. The idea of the God Wars, a background piece of history which proves integral to the plot, but is not described in great detail. This is another area that could easily be picked up if the author chooses to write more stories in this world.
It's so hard to condense my thoughts into a review because this book had my mind running. Some aspects lost me a bit and I would find my mind wondering. But then another scene or concept would grab my attention and refuse to let go of it. I guess that's why I couldn't give this five stars. Part of me wasn't fully satisfied with the story. I felt like there were two many goals with this story and the author wasn't sure what kind of novel he wanted to write. Part mythical fiction, part occult detective novel, with some probing insights into human psychology and the power of belief. What I was glad about was that he didn't take this opportunity to attack organized religion. That just gets old. I think that there is so much more to probe into when it comes to matters of faith than just beating the drum about how the church manipulates and takes advantage of believers. I think we know that this is possible and happens more than any believer would like. Let's put that aside and explore other aspects of belief and how this can clash with other worldviews, or how belief is not as foreign and unfruitful as we might assume. While Gladstone only scratches the surface here (since this book isn't 1000 pages), he delivers something thought-provoking that I could appreciate.
Three Parts Dead has something to offer the genre of Fantasy. I would recommend it.
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