|Max Gladstone is one of the Hugo Awards nominees in the New Writer category, and it is easy see why when you read Three Parts Dead.
Here’s the premise: Humans have figured out that gods are essentially entities that collect and redistribute energy: gods receive energy in the forms of prayer and worship, and they dole it out in the forms of blessings, protections, and miracles. Furthermore, gods are bound by their obligations; a god who receives less energy from worship than he or she uses to honor promises can die of over-exertion. Now there are humans who continue to worship a god or set of gods, and those who have decided that anything a god can do, they can do just as well for themselves. Collect enough energy and you can power a city, or even become a Deathless King and rival the gods themselves. But remember that bit about obligations? Well, those obligations are contractual, and so men and even gods need lawyers.
It turns out that practicing law and necromancy share a lot of common ground. The lawyers who negotiate the contracts between gods, kings, living men, ghosts and other undead do so after advanced training in their Craft at the Hidden Schools, which, held aloft by power and concealed by clouds, move about above the mundane dwellings of earthbound men.
Tara Abernathy is literally down and out after being expelled from the Hidden Schools for a reason which the author reveals in good time, so I will give no spoiler here. Let it suffice to say that I liked her even more than I already did when I found out what she had done, and you probably will too. So
makes her way home, and puts her Craft at the service of her townspeople, until a crisis reveals that she and they have rather different ideas about acceptable boundaries.
Fortunately, Tara, who rather needs her butt saved right about then, gets recruited by Elayne Kevarian, a partner in the law firm of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao, who has had her eye on Tara for quite a long time and has liked what she observed. Tara is taken on as a probationary assistant for a case that involves one of the most powerful of the surviving gods, Kos the Everburning, a benign deity who presides over the city of
, receiving worship and keeping the lights on and the trains running.
has just died. There is enough residual divine power to keep the city operational for a few weeks, but time is running out.
So instead of overseeing the fulfillment of a mysterious contract, which has gone missing, Elayne and Tara are hired to find out what caused
’s death, and to settle his contractual debts without triggering a massive power outage in Alt Coulumb.
Abelard is a young acolyte of
, the one who was on duty before the Eternal Flame when the not-so-eternal flame went out. Abelard is a genuine devotee, distraught at the passing of the god he loved with all his heart and soul. Elayne recruits him to be their assistant and guide. Accompanied betimes by Abelard’s friend Cat, who is addicted to several things, including vampire blood, and a vampire captain who knows more than someone wants him to remember, they investigate labyrinthine plots and dark places of the city.
has stumbled upon a wrinkle. Not so long ago, Alt Coulumb had two gods, for
shared the city with his consort and complement, the goddess Seril. But Seril died in a war between gods and Kings; and a Craftsman, Alexander Denovo, was hired to cobble together a construct to officiate as Justice in her stead. Now the original guardians of the city, the shape-changing gargoyles who served Seril, have returned to Alt Coulumb, and the Blacksuits, implacable agents and inquisitors of blind Justice, are hunting one of them on suspicion of murder. Denovo is also back, representing the interests of the Kings who covet the power that
no longer wields. Or maybe he’s just in it for himself.
This is a terrific story, and the caliber of writing is extraordinary. Three Parts Dead is one of those rare books that, after I finished reading it, I promptly started it again. Knowing the revelations in store in no way diminished my enjoyment; rather, I could savor the indicators, clues, and craftsmanship. I love it when a title makes more sense at the end than it did after the first 5 chapters!
is certainly a writer I will keep a lookout for, and is my choice for that Hugo. ~~ Chris R. Paige