Three Parts Dead Readalong Part 1

Posted March 9, 2015 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books / 0 Comments


Cover for Three Parts Dead by Max GladstoneFor this week, we’ve read the prologue up to chapter 8, or about a third of the book in question. You can find details on the participants and the schedule here. You can also find out more information about the book there! This week’s host is Lynn from Lynn’s Book Blog. You can find this hosting post for this week’s discussion here. ^_^

I have also borrowed (read: “nicked with attribution”) Lynn’s description of where we are in the plot. Thanks, Lynn! <3

If you haven’t read the book – we get off to a great start as Tara graduates and is simultaneously thrown out of school.  She almost immediately becomes caught up with Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, a mysterious firm (so far) whose employees seem to use the Craft.  The craft is a magic system and the users so far seem to particularly focus on necromancy.  We’re also introduced to Abelard who’s basically been having a bad time – being a devotee and priest of the God Kos who has basically just died!  Yeah, that’s right – but, did he die or was there foul play??

This post contains spoilers for the first 7/8 chapters of the book. Undoubtedly the  posts of other participants will too.

1. Max Gladstone isn’t holding any hands here, we’re dropped straight into the world (which is a bit ironic given the start – but I’ll get to that) and expected to pick up and run with it. Are you enjoying the style and, more to the point, what ‘reveals’ have been the most surprising for you so far??

I love being dropped into the world. Usually. I didn’t much enjoy it here, though, and that’s largely down to how Gladstone opted to introduce Tara to us. It didn’t work for me at all. To me it felt like her introduction couldn’t figure out if it wanted to be set in the story’s present or be an infodump about how Tara got into the mess she was in and it told me exactly nothing of what I’d like to know about Tara as a character. I don’t mind Gladstone glossing over the way she gets back to her home village, just the way that it kept jumping back and forth in time.

I didn’t really start to get invested in Tara’s perspective until Gladstone dropped that and focused on Tara’s animating the corpses. I gather that Tara being thrown out of the Hidden Schools is going to be important later on (in the series if not the books), but it read like a very clumsy and heavy-handed way to give us the information at a time when we don’t even strictly need it. I’d much rather have seen Gladstone pick either the lead-up to her being thrown out or the moment she’d landed and focused on that instead of trying to knit them through one another. That would’ve had a much stronger effect on me. I seem to be in the minority in that regard, though?

That said, I did enjoy the first eight chapters, especially once Kevarian showed up properly. It’s not that I’m very attached to her as a person, but it’s roughly when the actual story got going and the flashback-y infodump of Tara’s past ended and the main story began. Well, all right. That last happened when Tara decided to start animating the dead villagers, but at this point I had a grand total of no reasons to care about it and that changed with the appearance of Kevarian.

I don’t know. It just feels like the first chapter of the story is bogged down and messily described to me. I remember reading the prologue a few months ago and it not catching my interest very strongly and I admit that it didn’t capture me too strongly now either. Abelard’s just a bit too distant for me at this point, so I didn’t quite connect to the prologue the way that I would have liked to. Once the story gets going, though, my enjoyment really soared. I’m very proud of the fact that I was good and put the book down when I reached chapter 9. I really didn’t want to. And if the story stays as interesting and gripping as it’s been in these chapters, I may not succeed next week. I’m already itching to pick it back up and read on.

So… Back to the question. I usually like being thrown into a world. (Heck, I’ve written stories that threw people into the middle of a conversation myself; that can work really well!) But I don’t think that Gladstone pulled it off for me is all. It’s a shame because I thoroughly enjoyed what came afterwards so far.

I liked the prologue — there’s a whole discussion on whether books should or should not have prologues — and while I’m not sure Three Parts Dead would meet my personal criteria for choosing when to write a prologue, I do think it works really well. It does the things a prologue is supposed to do. It introduces the mystery, one of the key characters and the world all at once. It’s intended to be a hook and it works as a hook. (Though if you’re like me, you may want to give it another two chapters before making a final decision on whether you’re interested.)

2. At the start of the book Tara graduates and is cast out of school (literally from a great height) simultaneously – any ideas about why that might be?

Nope. I’m not even going to try and hazard a guess, sorry! (I’ll guess along when we have some more information about the school to play with, though.)

3. I’m always interested in the magical systems and how they work and the one here seems to almost be a ‘payback’ type of affair. What are your thoughts about the magical system so far, we do have a dead deity after all, not to mention it appears that regular everyday people can access magic as well as deities. Discuss please (if only to enlighten my tiny brain!)

It’s been a gruelling week so my reading comprehension isn’t quite what it should be for puzzling complex things out, but I liked what I saw a lot. Some time away from the book and a private discussion with a friend who’s read the book helped solidify some of the ideas in my mind, though. I like the contract-like approach to the magic. That’s an approach we actually see fairly often in fantasy, though the most obvious example I can think of right now is Dungeons and Dragons (the tv show, not the tabletop game) where Dungeon Master explains to Eric that all magic has an effect and calling water up in one place may may a drought somewhere else. I may have misremembered the example, but the general gist is there.

We have a similar situation here, except with energy/soul/magical contracts/stuff I am not entirely sure I get. It’s just handled in a very different way from what we usually see. Sometimes there are contracts involved and sometimes they’re magical, but… not like this and there certainly isn’t any lawyering going on like in Three Parts Dead. I love it!

And, at the same time, that doesn’t seem to be all there is to the system. That’s what I’ve been having a tougher time to figure out. It seems like the Craftspeople can actually do more than what that system suggests and I’m not sure I’ve seen enough to get a good grasp of it yet? I’m eager to learn more, though!

4. We’re only a third in but how are you feeling towards the characters so far. are you developing any favourites already, any sneaky suspicions of any of the characters or are you loving them all?

I heart Shale. But then I have a soft spot for sarcastic characters every now and again. Shale hit it pretty strongly. I also like Tara and Kevarian especially. I also appreciated the portrayal of Abelard, but he’s not entirely won me over just yet. I was pretty intrigued by his portrayal actually, and Gladstone’s choices there. Nowadays, depictions of smoking are… As far as I can tell they’re incredibly uncommon, unless you’re watching a rerun or you’re watching (or reading or playing) something set in a time when smoking was more accepted. At least if you want to see a depiction that’s neutral in tone. Otherwise if you see it, it ends up being negative.

In Three Parts Dead, Abe’s smoking is portrayed as a sign of devotion to Kos and it’s made very clear that he’s a chain smoker and an addict. I think the prologue is the only time he doesn’t spend on-screen time shaking from his need for the next fix. And, the interesting part for me, isn’t so much this portrayal of smoking as being acceptable to him because religion, but that Gladstone actually presents the situation as more nuanced than that. There’s a scene where Abe is encouraged to stop smoking entirelyby the Church’s doctor (and possibly the Cardinal) as well because the magic that made it safe for priests to chainsmoke as much as they do has died/vanished. I forget whether the Cardinal said anything explicit, but I do know it was brought up around him when Abelard takes confession and focuses strongly on needing his next fix and trying to deny himself. Even though Abe clearly sees his smoking as a positive thing, Gladstone has tried to make sure that, at the very least, the readers know it’s not quite as simple as all that.

I really hope that that’s just a case of character-building and won’t turn out to be plot-important in some way. Given the nuance the portrayal of cigarettes already has, I’d imagine there’s a very good chance it won’t.

I also liked Tara and the way that Gladstone chose to present her intelligence. So far I think half the time it’s happened, he’s done so in the form of other characters asking questions of Tara directly. The direct questions help ensure that the reader (well, at least this reader) also gets caught up in answering the question and seeing whether Tara’s matches what I came up with (and why it didn’t if it didn’t). The rest of the time it’s been Tara thinking through problems with enough leaps that I could follow it along even with my fatigue-addled brain.

And Shale. I want to know more about Shale!

Surprisingly, I also found myself invested in the way the scenes jump from character to character. I usually prefer a more limited pov than switching to a new character every scene or so, but Gladstone’s approach largely works. It didn’t work as well with the scenes between the gargoyles approaching and professor Denovo’s introduction, but that’s partially because they’re new characters and we know barely anything about them. Nothing beyond the scene they’re in, really. I suspect that’s something that’ll right itself as the story progresses and these scenes will no longer stand alone.

Anything else? Um… Not that I can think of at the moment. Do please be sure to check out everyone else’s reply to the questions and join us in the discussion!