Three Parts Dead Readalong Part 1

Posted March 9, 2015 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books / 4 Comments

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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!

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4 responses to “Three Parts Dead Readalong Part 1

  1. That’s interesting that the first part of the book didn’t work for you. Since you explained it, I can see what you mean. I am doing the audiobook version, and I started this book and it does jump around a little, and I was multi-tasking and couldn’t focus solely on the book (like when I knit). So I actually turned it off, and then later when I was able to focus on the book, restarted it (I hadn’t gone far into the book the first round, so no big deal). I did enjoy it once I was able to give it 90% of my attention.

    Abelard’s smoking! Ugh! But in this story it has greater meaning. Can you imagine being able to pick a religion based on your vice? Whether it be alcohol, cocaine, cigarettes, sugary foods, sex, etc., and then have the worst effects of that addiction/vice canceled out by your chosen deity? what would I choose? Hmmm…..I do love to cook…but I also love my marital bliss. Tough choice.

    • I’m glad to hear it made sense! And that you were able to start enjoying it once you could focus on it more. It’s definitely one of those books that asks for your full attention, isn’t it?

      It does! I really, really like that. It’d have been very easy to portray his smoking as one-sided and… Gladstone doesn’t do it. I love that. And yes that’d be a very tough choice to make! I’m really curious to see how Gladstone handles this detail because it’s such a fascinating one.

  2. You make some excellent points – it’s amazing how many things I think I wanted to mention I forget about once I get into the typing – I really should make proper notes!
    I’d forgotten about Tara’s return to the village but now you mention it it was rather skimmed over – at that point I would definitely say I couldn’t get a feel for Tara but luckily, like you said, the next chapters really picked up. Clearly she doesn’t behave how people would like or she’s done something very bad to get thrown out in such a fashion and I hope this gets elaborated upon.
    I also like Shale – I’m not sure how he’s going to work out at the moment but I do like his banter – and he’s a gargoyle! I loved that. I was also really surprised when vampires turned up. Basically, I think I went into this without the first clue what it was really about (I’d read positive reviews but had basically forgotten what the gist of the story was) so this is a great surprise. I think the only thing I am feeling a lack of at the moment is a sense of place but we’ll see how that develops.
    Lynn 😀

    • Me too! You all seem really, really, really taken by the mask/face thing Tara did to Shale and I haven’t mentioned it at all. O_O

      *twiddles thumbs* I couldn’t help myself and already started to read onwards. It definitely gets elaborated on in next week’s section. And that is all I’m saying to avoid spoilers, but I am really really really excited to hear everyone’s thoughts on what I read so far!

      I really hope he’ll be a red herring. We’ve got that thing happening in chapter 8 that would make that theory plausible. (*hangs head* I really thought chapter 8 was this week’s final chapter.)

      Me too! The only things I remember from the reviews are “People of colour!”, “Queer people!”, “Shiny magics!” and… that’s it. Which should’ve put it so much higher on my TBR pile, but I’m glad it didn’t. Reading this with everyone is a lot of fun. <3