book-reviews

Three Parts Dead

by Max Gladstone

Rating: ★★★

I'm a little sad that I didn't like this more. Gladstone puts some serious effort into writing a distinctive fantasy world, steering wide of existing tropes. The concept of a junior legal partner in a magical setting, prosecuting on the behalf of a deceased god, is a great conceit, and the various thematic connections he draws with university life make for a bit of wry humour.

However, I was disappointed that the legal side of the setup was rent so directly into the magical side. I was looking forward to seeing lawyers arguing cases from bizarre magical precedent and evidence, arcane rules, and similar rather wordy conflicts. Gladstone chooses instead to abstract away from this, presenting legal argument as a form of magical combat. I can understand why, but that was a detraction for me.

The intricacies are thus mostly drawn from the rest of the book, as our heroine takes on the investigation. This wasn't quite as interesting as it could have been, as the writing tended towards more typical examples of crime fiction, with the investigator being ambushed and drawn into additional conflicts that surround the case, often of a more physical than intellectual bent. Without a coherent map of the world, it feels pointless to try and anticipate anything, so the mystery wasn't terribly compelling. There were unique aspects worth reading, but nothing really hooked me.

A strong first novel, showing some dedication to innovation, but not quite what I was looking for.