Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead

3.9 15
by Max Gladstone

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A god has died, and it's up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis's steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four

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A god has died, and it's up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis's steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.
Tara's job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who's having an understandable crisis of faith.
When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb's courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb's slim hope of survival.
Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the world of Gladstone's fascinating debut, gods communicate directly with their followers, and magic—known as Craft—is practiced like law. First-year associate Craftswoman Tara Abernathy; her mentor, Elayne Kevarian; and novice priest Abelard must resurrect the dead god Kos before his city of Alt Coulumb falls into disarray. The investigation takes on new dangers when they discover that Kos may have been murdered. The combination of legal thriller and steam-powered fantasy may seem improbable, but Gladstone makes it work with an appealing cast and a setting rich with imaginative details, like a priest who shows his devotion to a fire-god by chain-smoking, junkies getting high on vampire bites, cops who become part of a hive-mind when on duty, and the binding of divine power by legal contracts. Sometimes the sheer density of information threatens to overwhelm, but the story remains suspenseful and fast-paced throughout, and the diverse, female-led cast is a joy to follow through the fascinating and unusual landscape. Agent: Weronika Janczuk, Lynn Franklin Associates, in association with D4EO Literary Agency. (Oct.)
author of the Kitty Norville series Carrie Vaughn

This has so many of my favorite things: an intriguing world, fun characters, a puzzle of a story that manages to be both funky fantasy and legal thriller. Three Parts Dead is simultaneously fast paced and thoughtful, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Geek Speak Magazine

Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher are conjured for a China Miéville story about magical lawyers trying to revive a dead God in a steampunk city. Recommended: Hell yes!
author of The Last Witchfinder James Morrow

Max Gladstone has evidently devised a necromantic steampunk machine that enabled him to channel the Roger Zelazny of Lord of Light, cathect the Neil Gaiman of American Gods, and subsume the oeuvre of John Grisham, all with the aim of producing loopy, metaphysically-minded legal thrillers.
John Crowley

With his first book, Max Gladstone gives promise of being a true star of twenty-first century fantasy.
author of The Mote in God's Eye and Lucifer's Ha Jerry Pournelle

Max Gladstone has created a fascinating universe and equally fascinating characters.... This is his first novel. I can't wait for his second.
RT Book Reviews

Sci-fi, fantasy and a murder mystery all rolled in one.... exciting and fast paced with unexpected twists and turns. It culminates in a big surprise ending.
Library Journal
When Kos, fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb, dies unexpectedly, Tara Abernathy, a newly hired associate at the necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, takes on her first major assignment: resurrect Kos and discover why he died. Her assistant, chain-smoking priest Abelard, has a particular interest in Tara's work. Not only does the death of his god call Abelard's beliefs into question, Kos died on his "watch." As the pair go about their investigation, secrets emerge that threaten not only the lives of the investigators but the existence of the city itself. Gladstone's first novel creates a world filled with magic and faith, and peopled with memorable heroes and villains. VERDICT Accomplished storytelling and a fresh take on world-building make this blend of fantasy, mystery, and courtroom drama a must-read for most fans of the genre. [See Prepub Alert 6/13/12; the author was a panelist at this year's Day of Dialog, "Who's on First? New Voices in Genre Fiction" program.—Ed.]

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Product Details

Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
Craft Sequence Series, #1
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Three Parts Dead

By Max Gladstone

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2012 Max Gladstone
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-0203-2


When the Hidden Schools threw Tara Abernathy out, she fell a thousand feet through wisps of cloud and woke to find herself alive, broken and bleeding, beside the Crack in the World.

By the grace of fortune (or something else), she landed three mere miles from what passed for an oasis in the Badlands, a stand of rough grass and brambles clustered around a brackish spring. She couldn't walk, but made the crawl by sunrise. Caked with dirt and dried blood, she dragged herself over sand and thorn to the muddy pool at the oasis's heart. She drank desperately of the water, and to pull herself from death's brink she also drank the life of that desolate place. Grass withered beneath her clutching fingers. Scrub bushes shrank to desiccated husks. The oasis died around her and she crumpled to the arid earth, wracked with wounds and deep illness.

Dream visions tore at one another in her fever, lent strength and form by her proximity to the Crack. She saw other worlds where the God Wars never happened, where iron ruled and men flew without magic.

When Tara regained consciousness the oasis was dead, its spring dry, grass and brambles ground to dust. She lived. She remembered her name. She remembered her Craft. Her last two months in the Hidden Schools seemed like a twisted hallucination, but they were real. The glyphs tattooed on her arms and between her breasts proved she had studied there, above the clouds, and the glyph below her collarbone meant they really did graduate her before they kicked her out.

She fought them, of course, with shadow and lightning—fought and lost. As her professors held her squirming over empty space, she remembered a soft, unexpected touch—a woman's hand sliding into her pocket, an alto whisper before gravity took hold. "If you survive this, I'll find you." Then the fall.

Squinting against the sun, Tara drew from the pocket of her torn slacks an eggshell-white business card that bore the name "Elayne Kevarian" above the triangular logo of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao, one of the world's most prestigious Craft firms. Professors and students at the Hidden Schools whispered the woman's name—and the firm's—in fear and awe.

A job offer? Unlikely, considering the circumstances, and even if so, Tara was not inclined to accept. The world of Craft had not been kind to her of late.

Regardless, her priorities were clear. Food, first. Shelter. Regain strength. Then, perhaps, think about the future.

Good plan.

She collapsed.

Silence settled over the Badlands.

A buzzard descended from the dry blue sky in tightening circles, like a wood chip in a draining pool. It landed beside her body, hopped forward. No heartbeat audible; cooling flesh. Convinced, it bent its head and opened its beak.

Tara's hand twitched up fast as a cobra and wrung the bird's neck before it could flee. The other gathering buzzards took the hint and wheeled to safety, but one bird cooked inexpertly over a fire of dry grass and twigs was more than enough to set a half-starved girl on her feet.

Four weeks later she arrived on the outskirts of Edgemont, gaunt and sunblasted, seeing things that did not precisely exist. Her mother found her collapsed near their cattle fence. A lot of crying followed her discovery, and a lot of shouting, and more crying after the shouting, and then a lot of soup. Edgemont mothers were renowned for their practicality, and Ma Abernathy in particular had iron faith in the restorative powers of chicken broth.

Tara's father was understanding, considering the circumstances.

"Well, you're back," he said, a concerned expression on his broad face. He did not ask where she had been for the last eight years, or what happened there, or how she earned her scars. Tara would have thanked him for that had she known how. There were too many ways he could have said "I told you so."

That evening the Abernathy family sat around their kitchen table and settled on the story they would tell the other residents of Edgemont: When Tara left home at sixteen, she signed on with a traveling merchant, from whom she learned the fundamentals of Craft. The Hidden Schools never opened themselves to her, and at last, tired of dust and long wandering, she returned home. It was a good enough lie, and explained Tara's undeniable skill with contracts and bargains without stirring up any of the local fear of true Craftswomen.

Tara put the business card from her mind. The people of Edgemont needed her, though they would have chased her from town if they knew where she learned to use her talents. Ned Thorpe lost half the profit from his lemon crop every year, due to a bad arbitration clause in his reseller's contract. Ghosts stole dead men's bequests through loopholes in poorly written wills. Tara offered her services tentatively at first, but soon she had to refuse work. She was a productive citizen. Shopkeeps came to her to draft their pacts, farmers for help investing the scraps of soulstuff they eked out of the dry soil.

Over time she picked up the pieces of her childhood, hot cocoa and pitching horseshoes on the front lawn. It was easier than she expected to reacclimate herself to a country life without much Craft. Indoor plumbing was a luxury again. When summer came, she and her parents sat outside in the breeze or inside with windows shut and shades drawn to ward off heat. When cold wind blew they built fires with wood and flint. No elementals of air were summoned to fan the brow, no fiery dancers cavorted to warm cold halls. At school she had condemned such a life as simple, provincial, boring, but words like "simple," "provincial," and "boring" did not seem so pejorative to her now.

Once, she nearly took a lover, after a solstice dance on the village green. Staggering back tipsy and arm-in-arm with a boy she barely remembered from her days in Edgemont's two-room school, who had grown into a young man tending his family's sheep, she stopped to rest on a swell of ground and watch the stars in the fleeting summer night. The young man sat next to her and watched with her, but when he touched her face and the small of her back she pulled away, apologized, and left.

The days were long, and safe, but she felt something wither inside her as she lingered there. The world beyond Edgemont, the world of Craft more profound than a farmer's spring planting and the mending of small cuts and bruises, faded and began to seem unreal. Her memories of the Hidden Schools acquired the cotton haze of dream, and she woke once or twice from nightmares in which she had never left home at all.

* * *

The Raiders struck at night, three months after the solstice. Swift and savage, they took little, but at dawn three of Edgemont's watchmen lay on the field of battle, shrunken in death by a clinging curse that corroded anything that drew near. The villagers lifted the bodies on long spears of cold iron and buried them in a blessed grave. The chaplain said a few words, and as Edgemont bowed its collective head Tara watched him weave the town's faith into a net, taking from each man or woman what little soulstuff he or she could afford and binding it close about the loose earth. He was no Craftsman, but his Applied Theology was sound as such things went.

Tara was the last to leave the grave.

"I don't know how we'll manage." Father stood alone by their hearth after the funeral and before the wake, the whiskey in his glass the same color as their small early autumn fire. "They were good boys, and well trained. Held off the Raiders for years. We'll have to hire others, but we can't spare the price."

"I can help."

He looked back at her, and she saw a splinter of fear in his eyes. "You're not a fighter, Tara."

"No," she admitted. "But I can do more than fight."

"We'll manage." His tone left no avenue for appeal. "We've managed before."

She did not challenge him, but she thought: The chaplain's skills are antiquated. He struggles to keep the village safe. What's the use of all I've learned, if I can't protect the people I care about?

Her father turned from the fireplace and fixed her with his steady gaze. "Tara, promise me you won't ... intervene."

Over the last few months Tara had learned that the best lies were lies not told. "Dad. Do you think I'm stupid?"

He frowned, but said no more. This suited Tara, because she would not have promised. Her father was not a Craftsman, but all pledges were dangerous.

That night she leapt from her second-story room, calling upon a bit of Craft to cushion her fall. Shadows clustered around her as she made her way to the fresh grave. Her father's voice echoed in her ears as she unslung the shovel from her back. She ignored him. This dark work would help Edgemont, and her family.

Besides, it would be fun.

She did not use her Craft to open the grave. That was one of the few rules a Craftswoman always obeyed, even at the highest levels of study. The fresher the bodies, the better, and Craft sapped freshness from them. Instead Tara relied on the strength of her arms, and of her back.

She pulled a muscle after the first three feet of digging, and adjourned to a safe distance to rest before attacking the dirt again. The shovel wasn't made for this work, and her hands were months out of practice, their old digging calluses gone soft. She had stolen her father's work gloves, but they were comically large on her and their slipping against her skin caused blisters almost as bad as those she intended to prevent.

It took an hour's work to reach the corpses.

They were buried without coffins, so the soil would reclaim their bodies faster and leech the poison magic from them. Tara hadn't even needed to bring a crowbar. Pulling the corpses out of the hole was harder than she expected, though. Back at school, they had golems for this sort of work, or hirelings.

When she grabbed the first body by its wrists, the Raiders' curse lashed out and spent itself against the wards glyphed into her skin. Harmless to her, the curse still stung, bad as when she chased her dog into stinging nettles as a girl. She swore.

Removing the corpses from the grave made more noise than Tara liked, but she couldn't work inside the pit. A grave's mouth circumscribed the night sky, and she wanted as much starfire as possible for the work at hand. It had been too long since she last stretched her wings.

In retrospect, the whole thing was a really, exceptionally, wonderfully bad idea. Had she expected the Edgemonters' gratitude when their dead comrades stumbled to their posts the next evening, groaning from tongueless mouths? At the same time, though, it was such a brilliant idea—simple, and so logical. Battle dead would not return much to the soil, but their corpses had enough strength left to fight for Edgemont. These revenant watchmen might not speak, and would be slower on the uptake than the living variety, but no wound could deter them, and the fiercest Craft would slide through their shambling corpses with no noticeable effect.

Nothing came from nothing, of course. The business of disinternment was strict. A dead body contained a certain amount of order. Locomotion required most of it, simple sensory perception much of the rest, and there wasn't a great deal left over for cognition. Laymen rarely understood. It wasn't like a Craftswoman could bring a person back to life unchanged and chose not to.

She drew the bent, sharp moonbeam that was her work knife from its place of concealment within the glyph over her heart, held it up to soak in starlight, and went to work on the twist of spirit and matter most folk still called man even after it had been dead for some time.

A revenant didn't require a will of its own, or at least not so robust a will as most humans thought they possessed. Slice! Or complex emotions, though those were more fundamental to the human animal and thus harder to pry free; she made her knife's edge jagged to saw them out, then fine and scalpel-sharp to excise the troublesome bits. Leave a fragment of self-preservation, and the seething rage left over from the last moments of the subject's life. There's almost always rage, Professor Denovo had explained patiently, time and again. Sometimes you have to dig for it, but it's there nonetheless. And buried beneath the detritus of thousands of years of civilization lay that most basic human power of identification: these are my people. Those others, well, those are food.


Tara gloried in the work. As her knife sang through dead flesh, she felt years of torment and the waking dream of Edgemont fade away. This was real, the acid-sharp scent of welded nerves, the soulstuff flowing through her hands, the corpses' spasms as she worked her Craft upon them. Forgetting this, she had forgotten a piece of herself. She was complete again.

Which she couldn't exactly explain to the torch-bearing mob.

Her cry when the Raiders' curse struck must have tipped them off, or else the darkness that spread across the village as she twisted starfire and moonlight through the warp and weft of her mind to bring a mockery of life to the dead. Maybe it had been the thunder of reanimation, as of a tombstone falling from a gruesome height.

Also, she had cackled as the corpses woke beneath her: a full-throated belly laugh, a laugh to make the earth shake. Good form required a guffaw at death's expense, though Professor Denovo always recommended his students practice discretion, perhaps for cases like this one.

"Raiders!" cried the front-most Edgemonter, a middle-aged wheat farmer with a round potbelly and the improbably heroic name of Roland DuChamp. Tara had settled his grandfather's will for him a month before. He was mad now with the fury of a man confronting something he cannot understand. "Back for blood!"

It didn't help that shadows still clung to Tara, shielding her from their sight. What the Edgemonters saw across the graveyard was monster more than woman, wreathed in starfire and night-made-flesh, save where her school glyphs glowed through in purest silver.

The townsfolk raised their weapons and advanced uneasily.

Tara put away her knife and extended her hands, trying to look friendly, or at least less threatening. She didn't banish the shadows, though. Her return had been awkward enough for Mother and Father without bringing a torch-wielding mob down upon them. "I'm not here to hurt anyone."

The corpses, of course, chose that moment to sit up, growl with unearthly voices, and clumsily brandish weapons in their skeletal hands.

The mob screamed. The corpses groaned. And streaking through the darkness came the five remaining watchmen of Edgemont, the power of their office drawn about them. Halos of white light surrounded the watch, granting them spectral armor and the strength of ten men. Tara backed away farther, glancing about for an avenue of escape.

The eldest watchman, Thom Baker, raised his spear and called out, "Stand, Raider!"

Three of his comrades fell upon her revenants and wrestled them down. Tara had done her work well; recognizing their friends, the corpses put up little resistance. The odds stood at two to one against her, and, as her father knew, she was no warrior.

At this stage, dropping her cloak of darkness and trying to explain might not have done any good. They had caught her raising the dead. Perhaps she was not Tara Abernathy after all, but something wearing Tara's skin. They would cut off her head and move on to her family, make sure of the lot of them in one stroke. Justice would be swift, in the name of the Gods, fallen though most of them might be.

Tara was in trouble. The members of this mob were in no mood to discuss the valuable contribution her Craft could make to their lives. In their murmurs of anger and fear, she heard her doom.

A wind blew from the north, bearing cold and death.

Lightning split the clear night sky. Storm clouds boiled up from nothing, and torch-fires flickered and quailed. The glow from the watchmen's armor dimmed, and Tara saw their true forms beneath: Thom Baker's double chin and two-day stubble, Ned Thorpe's freckles.


Excerpted from Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Copyright © 2012 Max Gladstone. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Three Parts Dead 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Michael_A More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! The story was captivating, and I couldn't put it down. There were nice surprises throughout, even until the very end. Looking forward to the next story from Mr. Gladstone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MaraBlaise More than 1 year ago
I have for a while wanted to read this book so when I found it one Scribd I just had to read it.  Tara has been thrown out from her the Hidden School, fallen to the earth. You don't get to know why, at least not yet. She returns home to her family and resumes her life there, until the chance comes to her in the form of Elayne Kevarian who hires her to work for the necromantic firm: Kelethres, Albrecht and Ao and her first job is to bring the God Kos Everburning back to life. Together with Elayne and Abelard, the chain-smoking priest of Kos she must now resurrect Kos before His city falls apart. Max Gladstone has created a wonderful and interesting world where ordinary people have discovered that they also can have the power of Gods, or at least some of it with led to the Gods War and the world that Tara is living in now is the result of the war. Tara has the Craft, she can bring people back from the dead. Now one of the last great Gods have died, and now it's up to Tara to bring him back, but she must also figure out how he died because it's not easy thing to kill a God... I liked this book, sometimes I found the story about heavy, probably because I had to get to know a new world and its history, but as the story progressed and I learned more about the world and characters the more I liked the story. Also, the ending, it was great. I never that coming and I love getting surprised when I read a book!
Bibliotropic More than 1 year ago
As much as I always end up enjoying a good mystery, it’s never a genre or subgenre that really springs to mind when someone asks me, “What kind of books do you like to read?” Possibly because most mysteries I come across are contemporary, set in modern times in the real world with no supernatural elements to spice up the story. Just people doing what I can see people doing every day. So while the mystery may be good, it often takes the inclusion of a more preference genre to really get me willing to sink my teeth into the story. Fortunately, Three Parts Dead does just that. The god of fire has fallen, dead by mysterious means, and it’s up to 2 magical lawyers and a priest to uncover why. Hampering their investigation is a rival lawyer, the same man who got Tara literally thrown out of the Hidden Schools after she reported him for unethical conduct and who had a major hand in transforming a previously dying goddess into the cold and blind Justice that runs the city of Alt Coulomb. Throw in an agent of Justice who is also a vampire-junkie, and a vampire ship’s captain, and you’ve got a weird and diverse cast of characters that provide plenty of interest and intrigue, even if they weren’t involved in the investigation of a dead deity! I love the world that Gladstone has created. There are a few hints that it’s actually a parallel world, a branch-off from our own world and timeline at some unknown point in history, and the world that has evolved is as complete and complex as our own. Deities arise from belief and feed on it at the same time, growing in complexity and sentience the more people believe in it. There are vampires, there is magic, there are lawyers that can raise the dead if they so desire, there are people who use magic to stay alive for centuries or more, albeit often at the cost of their humanity. It’s beautifully crafted, multi-layered and rich and unlike most alternate worlds or even straight-up fantasy novels. If you want a world that feels so real you could step out your front door and find yourself in it, then that’s exactly what you’ll find in Three Parts Dead. I can’t stress enough how utterly complete this whole world feels. From the details surrounding the creation of deities and the parts they play in society, to dark pastimes after night falls, to how news is spread differently depending on where you live in the world, it really feels real. It’s plain that the author did a tremendous amount of worldbuilding, and that it’s a large talent of his. It’s the little details, too, the casual comments that get dropped about how things work, that make it all fit together. Yes, this book does have a fair bit of exposition, characters explaining their jobs and specialties for the benefit of other characters, but some degree of that is always necessary when writing a secondary world, and at least it gets done here in dialogue, and at appropriate times and situations, rather than in the narration. It gets a little bit wearing after a while, with characters always explaining, “And then this happens, which is why I do this and get this result,” but it still at least has a purpose, and comes across relatively naturally. While the reason for Kos’s demise will likely be surprising to readers, the fact that a certain character played a large role in the whole thing (albeit in some ways inadvertently) won’t be anything resembling a surprise. The characters here are very real, each with their own flaws, motives, interests, agendas, but they also are exactly what they appear to be. Tara is eager to prove herself. Elayne Kevarian is cold and calculating (though I think she has the most running below the surface). Abelard is devoted to Kos. You’re not going to find many instances where you think, “I didn’t expect that from them.” And though this leads to a twist ending that isn’t as twisty as it could be, it does leave you with a very strong sense of knowing who these people are, a good sense of familiarity where you’re certain of the characters and their place in things. Gladstone writes very vividly, both in regard to worlds and people, and they all leave a strong impression. I can see why this series receives such praise from readers. It’s a world that pulls you in, that’s richly detailed and beautiful and ugly and it doesn’t let you go once you’ve fallen into it. I’m very eager to read the other books in the Craft series now, to step back into that world and to see what other magic Gladstone can create with words. This is a series that you shouldn’t miss, and I can tell that just from having read the first one. If the rest of the series is like this, with the same flair for mystery and intrigue and amazingly interesting characters (whether I love them or hate them, I have to admit that they’re interesting), then I’m going to end up a very big fan.
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Loved every single thing about this book.
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Great read, lots of imagination. Looking forward to more by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing! The plotline is nicely devolped with plenty of twists to keep readers interested. Definitely a great work and should be checked out.
01lucha More than 1 year ago
read the story in a couple of days... hard to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Remember the watercolor rule mix all the colors together and its just a muddy muddle mom