Last Christmas I read Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. This is what I had to say.
This came to my attention from one of the blogs I read. I decided to purchase it because it looked interesting and had a good presence in the reviews. It was probably my favorite of these four as well. Good characters, excellent world building, and a solid plot. Nothing disappointed. The magic is interesting and what really impressed me was that it leaves enough to the imagination that it doesn’t have to waste time trying to fill in every little detail, yet you still feel like there are a good set of rules that have a logic about them.
That’s my original impression and I can’t believe that’s all I had to say. It has a great deal more to offer and I remember enjoying it a hell of a lot more.
His second book, Two Serpents Rise just came out, and I’m going to try and do better this time around.
I’ll start with the world because its the biggest link they both share and my favorite part by far. The world he presents is one in which Gods and gods once ruled. Their people worshipped them in their own styles and the gods provided them blessings, miracles, and pretty much just kept the world spinning. Somewhere along the way, a movement of nages theorized they could do better. War broke out, and many of these sorcerers killed the gods. The world takes place some time after that.
What’s so great is the organic nature of the world. In Three Parts Dead, Alt Coulumb is a city whose God has just died. At first it just looks like he overextended himself but it quickly becomes a whodunit. But you get a really great look at a world that has a knowable god and in which they have a contractual business arrangement with. That’s not just a metaphor, but I’ll get back to that. In Two Serpents Rise, the Red King killed their gods decades prior and has been keeping things running in his stead, using his power to provide water for this desert city. His firm (or Concern) takes revenue in the form of soulstuff, building up more and more power.
That leads back to the business arrangement, which is exactly how the magic, or Craft, in this world works. Craftsmen of great power, such as the Red King, hold Concerns. Basically, they draw in power from stars and other magical sources, then use that power to perform the miracles and feats of the gods they ousted. They essentially create a corporation, with souls and magic taking the place of revenue. If you know the way a corporation works, which is a legal entity, this makes a lot of sense. They just took it one step further and made it so that this entity is a sentient thing. The CEO of the corporation even lives on once his body fails, becoming a skeleton necromancer, allowing that corporation to be a real, immortal construct.
You’d have to read it to really understand it. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the concept the entire time reading and it flits in and out of my understanding. Still, it’s one of the most original and interesting approaches I’ve ever seen.
Everything else is great in the books as well, his writing is goods and the plot is great, but it’s the world that makes it. Two Serpents Rise cuts down on the viewpoints, a personal preference of mine, but also seems to ramble a bit more. I don’t know if its the character or Mr. Gladstone’s writing, but he deals out metaphors like candy. At first they’re rally clever, but eventually it gets old. His characters are great, though the most interesting seem to be the advisers (Tara’s boss in Three Parts Dead and the King in Red in Two Serpents Rise) who have the most character and steal the show.
Either way, if you’re looking for a fantasy world like no other, check out these two books. We’ve seen a lot of fantasy worlds that represented the medieval era, with sword and sorcery and all that. We’ve seen several present worlds in the midst of their industrial revolutions. This is the first to present a fantasy world as it passes into the eighties and nineties, a world of magic and monsters that has hit the age of lawyers and stockbrokers. This world doesn’t have horses, it has cars. Its wizards don’t wear robes, but suits, and its greatest dangers aren’t found from swords in dungeons but in boardrooms from contracts.