Three Parts Dead by Max GladstoneA few weeks ago, when I asked Justin Landon for a review to run on A Dribble of Ink, he offered me two. The first, which I ran, was for The City’s Son by Tom Pollock. It had great cover art, sounded intriguing and didn’t look like just another gritty Urban Fantasy novel. The other was Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, which I’d never heard of.

Justin Landon, Staffer’s Book Review:

Gladstone’s uses dynamic prose and a unique voice to communicate that intent. It’s poetic at times, and laconic at others, switching between the two, and in between, depending on the point of view from whence the story is told.


For fans of the legal thriller, and they are legion in the fiction marketplace, Three Parts Dead is an intriguing starting position for a fantasy enfilade. Elements of mystery, verbal fencing, and suspenseful confrontations stand tall throughout, set neatly into a fantasy world. I have concerns that traditional fans of fantasy may feel some frustration about the lack of development in Gladstone’s setting, but his excellent characters and interesting plot carry the day, making it a novel I can easily recommend.

Ay-leen the Peacemaker,

Gladstone’s world-building involves magical takes on fields that aren’t typically addressed in fantasy—in this case, litigation. Gods, rather than being mysterious, unknowable, and omnipotent, have direct relationships with their followers. Their abilities bring happiness and joy to believers, create rain in the desert, cure illnesses—but also fuel metropolitan transit systems, back military operations, and promote trading partnerships with multinational corporations. Like all powerful people, then, the divine are always in need of good legal representation.


Gladstone also drew upon his experiences abroad. He taught in rural China for two years, and while there he spoke to a lot of locals about life during the Cultural Revolution. “How does a community reform itself after being affected by historical violence?” he wondered. “That idea really stuck with me. These people lived in a time where they and their neighbors strung each other up in their front yards. And after living through experiences like that, how can society move on with those same people afterward?” In the backstory to Three Parts Dead—the God Wars that ended fifty years before the start of the story—humans fought with divine beings for the right to rule themselves. Various societies made different compromises with their gods, from keeping them to killing them to something in between.


Complex food for thought folded into an adrenaline-soaked read: Three Parts Dead really manages to keep to letter of the law—without forgoing its fantastical spirit.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, art by Chris McGrathSarah Chorn, Bookworm Blues:

While there is a lot in Three Parts Dead that will scratch any fantasy lover’s itch (gods, magic, religion, etc.), Gladstone manages to keep these deeper, more serious themes very fresh and almost lighthearted with a nice dose of humor. In fact, the humor itself, and some of the religious dealings, reminded me a little of Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. Gladstone’s interconnectivity between gods and their believers is both humorous on some accounts, but also rather profound as it deals with the interconnected roles of believers and deities. In a city where the power of gods run such things as elevators, and protects the city, the issues between citizens and gods are even more profound and impactful.

Three Parts Dead is pretty brilliant. Gladstone creates a wonderfully unique world and brings it to life with his flowing, descriptive prose. Though it might be a little overwhelming at first, once readers get used to it they will find themselves entranced by believable characters and a plot that is just as unique as the world it takes place in. Gladstone fills Three Parts Dead with some wonderful humor which serves to highlight some deeper themes couched in the plot itself and will surely dazzle anyone looking for a unique speculative fiction book to add to their collection.

Publishers Weekly:

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.

Whatchamacallit Reviews:

Three Parts Dead has a fantastic combination of characters. All the characters are compromised, all them are filled with histories filled with shadows, and yet you find yourself rooting for these broken characters. I know you’re supposed to love the protagonist, but in this case I really did. Tara is strong, smart, and full of piss and vinegar. Her history is almost as interesting as the back-story to the world here (which I personally could have read an entire series on and loved (not just a book but an entire series.))

Julia, All Things Urban Fantasy:

Perhaps the most impressive part of Gladstone’s world is the recognizable bones of our own reality. Wafting below this exotic architecture of magic and faith, these hints provided an anchor that made it oh so easy to get immersed in an alternate reality where magic is society’s life blood. THREE PARTS DEAD is a completely satisfying stand alone novel, but Gladstone has built both a world and characters that deserve further exploration. I’ll be eagerly awaiting whatever he chooses to write next.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, art by Chris McGrathGeonn Cannon, Geek Speak Magazine:

This is the best kind of first novel – one that introduces the reader to a clever, talented writer; but it’s also the worst because it means there aren’t other books by the same author for us to devour. In one scene, Tara narrates, “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.” My mind was incredibly vulnerable while reading this, and I can’t wait to surrender it to whatever Max Gladstone comes up with next.

Nick Sharps, SF Signal:

Don’t let the cover art fool you, Three Parts Dead is not your mama’s urban fantasy.

BookSpot Central:

Very unique. I liked how the author envisioned the use of magic and using it in service to power contracts. I also liked how the gods are basically another character in the story – with their foibles and odd or different ways – getting along with, or making jealous, the other characters in the story.

Throughout the various reviews, there’s a clear appreciation for Gladstone’s ability to fill his characters with life, wit and other characteristics that draw readers in. When I first saw Three Parts Dead, I almost immediately dismissed it based on the cover art. Now, I like the artist, Chris McGrath, enough, he’s done great work in the past and continues to do great work, but his work here just screams run-of-the-mill Urban Fantasy, despite technical excellence, and so I was heartened, and inspired to write this post, by all the various comments suggesting that readers not be fooled by the ho-hum cover. From the sounds of it, there’s a lot to like here, and I’ll definitely be checking out Three Parts Dead in the near future. And, hey, you can’t argue with a slim, satisfying stand-alone novel. Such a rarity these days, and something to be applauded.

Have you read Three Parts Dead? If so, what did you think of it?

  • Jessica Strider November 20, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I really enjoyed the book. I’ve been trying to think of other books to compare it to but there’s nothing. This is a very original fantasy novel. I think the publisher called it urban fantasy because it takes place in a city, but it’s traditional fantasy in that it’s another world that works on different rules than our own. It does have vampires, but it doesn’t read like what’s generally termed urban fantasy.

    I read it while in a fantasy funk, tired of the same old feel of fantasy (which, to be fair, I’ve been reading non-stop for 20 years or so). This book broke that funk.

  • […] Oh, and by the way – Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink posted an excellent overview of cool reviews of Three Parts Dead.  He’s much more on the ball than I’ve been about finding them; I definitely need to […]