Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone — New Review, Bookclub Edition

Of the four books I’ve read for bookclub, this is the first that was both new to me and something I genuinely enjoyed. From the description I was given — something about magical lawyers and gods, if I recall correctly — I expected it to be urban fantasy. Or perhaps a specific subset of urban fantasy. To me, those words conjure up real-world modern-day cities, with skyscrapers and electricity, but with vampires lurking in the shadows and alleyways. Something like Jim Butcher’s novels, which I didn’t particularly enjoy.

Tara stood in a metal box dangling by a thin cord over a thirty-storey drop, and the other end of that cord was held by the promise of a ghost.

Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead is more like The Lies of Locke Lamora, or even Terry Pratchett. The setting is unquestionably urban, but the city doesn’t run on electricity. It’s another world, a magical world, which is the flavour of fantasy I think I like the best. Three Parts Dead does include elements of the real world, but always in interesting ways. Gargoyles aren’t architectural flourishes, they’re magical creatures that can transform between human and stone at will. A vampire’s bite gives a recreational high. Money has value only because it is imbued with a portion of your soul.

In three states is the mind most vulnerable, Professor Denovo had once told her: in love, in sleep, and in rapt attention to a story.

Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone

I think I was more interested in the world than I was in the story. Which isn’t to say that nothing happens. The pace of Three Parts Dead is exciting, without ever being quite as unpleasantly relentless as The Anubis Gates. The characters seem cool, and I liked how they interacted with each other, but none of them know each other well enough to have the kind of deep connection I’m most drawn to. There is some character development for all the main characters, at least, and I’m hopeful that in future books they might all get to spend more time together.

The first half of Three Parts Dead was great, and really kept me hooked. Either the book lost steam after that, or I did. I should say that because I could only find a kindle or a paperback copy, and I don’t own a kindle, I was reading this on my computer screen, which probably isn’t the ideal environment. I’d be curious to see whether future books in the Craft series fare better on an actual ereader, or in paperback. I do intend to put the next books on one of my many ‘to-read’ lists, which at least says something positive!

Next, I’ll be finishing the currently-available extent of the Gentleman Bastard sequence: The Republic of Thieves.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch — Firm Favourite

Previous in the series: The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Fantasy heist meets pirate adventure: Red Seas Under Red Skies couldn’t be more made for me if it tried. Or maybe it could, it opens with a scene of betrayal and backstabbing. I love a clever treason, especially if there are pirates involved.

‘Tonight is delicate business,’ said Drakasha. ‘Misstepping in Port Prodigal after midnight is like pissing on an angry snake. I need -‘
‘Ahem,’ said Locke. ‘Originally, we’re from Camorr.’
‘Oh. Be on the boat in five minutes,’ said Drakasha.

—  Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch

What I love most about Red Seas Under Red Skies (apart from everything) is the continuation of the friendship between Locke and Jean. In the early part of the novel, Scott Lynch once again uses the structure of interwoven timelines to visit some of Jean and Locke’s worst moments: when they’re at each other’s throats or wallowing in self-pity and grief. By showing those moments, when they can still need each other and rely on each other without liking each other very much, Scott Lynch makes the relationship so much more real. It reminded me a little of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle’s texts.

This is where you and I are headed, Thorn – or at least you are. Look for us in history books and you’ll find us in the margins. Look for us in legends and you might just find us celebrated.

—  Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch

One of The Lies of Locke Lamora‘s few flaws is the absence of important female characters. Red Seas Under Red Skies goes some way to make up for that. Both Captain Zamira Drakasha and Lieutenant Ezri Delmastro are badass pirate women – but not uncomplicatedly badass. Zamira has a maternal side, and the friendship between the two women does a lot to round them out as characters. There’s also a love story. While it doesn’t get a lot of page space, it’s nonetheless effective. (Though I might be biased, because I love anyone who loves my favourite character.)

‘You are the only thing,’ she whispered through the iron grip of her embrace, ‘the only thing on this whole fucking ocean that’s mine, Jean Tannen.’

—  Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch

After about the first third, Red Seas Under Red Skies drops the device of going back and forth between timelines (for the most part). I honestly kind of miss it, and I think the middle of the book suffers ever so slightly from being so very linear. The end more than makes up for it, packing in so much action and tying together so many lose ends that even on this reread, I raced through the last couple of hundred pages.

Despite the pirates, I don’t love Red Seas Under Red Seas quite as much as I love The Lies of Locke Lamora, but that’s an exceptionally high bar! If you’ve ever read a crossover fic between Ocean’s Eleven and Pirates of the Caribbean, you should read this! (That crossover doesn’t actually exist, more is the pity.)

Next, I’ll be reading Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Next in the series: The Republic of Thieves.