Three Parts Dead is a book that I had a hard time getting into at first. I think I read the first chapter and a half before putting it down, eventually coming back to it a couple weeks later and finishing it in one day. I’m glad I started reading again because the story ended up being interesting and well plotted.
What’s more, Max Gladstone doesn’t just take the same fantasy tropes and rehash them. I am not automatically against reused fantasy tropes, but I must admit that it’s refreshing when an author goes outside the box.
First off, Three Parts Dead is not a romance and does not have any romantic subplots. Second, it’s a murder mystery I couldn’t solve by the midway point of the book and that seems rare these days. Law of conservation of characters applies to writing to a lesser extent than movies, but it still allows a well-read reader to make educated guesses. As a reader, I didn’t know whodunnit in Three Parts Dead until the author wanted me to… I find that impressive.
Three Parts Dead is also about the murder of a god in a very creative, modern-ish sword and sorcery world. I would call it a newly industrial world where magic and miracles are commodities. What’s more, the novel and world itself explores the relationship of faith in association to barter and economics. I feel like the novel breaks down a very complex idea in ways that highlight the talent of the author.
However, this is not a book for people who want everything explained or who prefer logical, rational magic systems like Brandon Sanderson’s novels. In Three Parts Dead, the focus of the story is on character development and investigation rather than world building; exposition is kept to a bare minimum. This was partly why I had a hard time getting into the story, but once I was used to the narrative style, I actually enjoyed it.
I was actually embarrassed a bit by how I almost set the book down, which would have been a shame. I believe a lot of current modern literature spoon feeds its readers in such a way that when I encounter stories that don’t break everything down in easily digested chunks (like classics or stories like Three Parts Dead) it requires a shift in my reading style.
I give Three Parts Dead 3.6 out of 5 stars. I think it’s a great story, it’s worth reading, but some of its strengths as a standalone story worked as weaknesses for me from a series perspective. For example, by the end of the story, I didn’t care enough about most of the characters to want to spend more time with them. I also never felt invested in the Three Parts Dead world because the exposition was kept so light. Three Parts Dead is part of a series, but since there is no real “main character” and from what I understand the sequels are not linear, I lost interest.
TL:DR I will recommend the first book, Three Parts Dead to fantasy readers who enjoy a mystery and a little bit of philosophy in their literature, but the story was not shaped in such a way to keep me interested in reading the whole series.