Hugo reading 2017: Three Parts Dead, by Matt Gladstone

The concluding episode in my Hugo reading marathon!  Huzzah!

The Craft Sequence, by Matt Gladstone, consists of five novels so far.  We get all of them in the Hugo Voter Pack, and, due to time constraints, I have read only the first one.

By which I mean, I have read the third one, Three Parts Dead..

Gladstone provides us with a rather endearing introduction (this one, more or less) at the start of his omnibus, explaining that he wanted to explore different cities and cultures in his world, from the point of view of the people who lived in them, rather than having his protagonists journey from place to place, interacting with it. So rather than doing a consecutive series featuring the same characters, he wrote five books set in the same world, and planned for each of them to stand alone.  And he started writing in the middle, in terms of the world’s history, so he numbered that book three (he also, helpfully, made sure that each book had a number in its title, so that people could easily figure out the chronology).

For reasons that I’m not entirely sure I understand, he decided to set out the omnibus in publication order, not chronological order.  Hence, I read the third one, which is also the first one, and which is called Three Parts Dead.

This is a world which is recovering from the God Wars.  It’s not entirely clear exactly what happened in these wars, but it seems that the Gods fought the Craftsmen and Craftswomen, and many of them perished in the fight.  Craftsmen are necromancers and lawyers; the Gods have amazing powers, but these tend to be controlled by contracts with other Gods, cities, or undying Kings.  When they die, they can, in some circumstances, be resurrected, zombie-like, to fulfil their contracts in particular ways, but they aren’t really themselves anymore.  It’s fascinating, convoluted, and confusing.

At the beginning of this story, Kos Everburning, the God who rules and protects Alt Coloumb (I had a lot of trouble with that name, it kept making me think of Control-Alt-Delete, or Alt-Right), is dead, possibly murdered.  Tara, who has just begun working for the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, and her supervisor, Ms Kevarian are contracted to defend Kos in court, and make a case for his resurrection.  He needs defending, because if he has died due to negligence in his contracts, then he is liable to his various debtors.  Their opponent is Tara’s former Professor and nemesis, Denovo, who was also responsible for turning the city’s former moon goddess, and Kos’s consort, Seril, into Justice forty years earlier.  Justice contains Seril’s power, but none of her personality or her spirit – this is a worst-case-scenario for a resurrected God.

The plot is complicated, and we mostly see it through the eyes of Tara, the junior necromancer, and Abelard, a novice priest of Kos, and the one who was on altar duty when Kos died. The magic is quite horrifying.  For example, we occasionally see the world through the eyes of Catherine Elle, who works as a Blacksuit – one of Justice’s minions.  Blacksuits have no will of their own when they are on duty, and are controlled absolutely by Justice.  This is something of a high, and whenever Catherine is off duty, she seeks other sources for the high, which… is often not ideal.

I don’t really know how to review this book.  It’s hard to unpick it at the edges without risking unravelling it completely.  It’s complex, and cleverly thought out, and full of politics, the characterisation is great, there are moments of dry humour, and the ending is satisfying – though it did require a fair bit of the aftermath and prologue to make sense of what had happened.  Also, Gladstone managed to make the ending work without cheating, which I initially thought he had done.

I’ll definitely be reading the other books, and I’m now trying to decide whether this goes below or above October Daye on my ballot.  It’s definitely less dark, which is a plus; on the other hand, I know all the October Daye books are pretty good, and I don’t know where this series goes from here.

On reflection, I think my ballot goes Vorkosigan, Craft Sequence, Temeraire, October Daye, Rivers of London, The Expanse.  Temeraire might have been more fun than the Craft Sequence, but I think this was much cleverer.

Here ends the Hugo reading for 2017!  I may read the zines for my own interest, but there’s no way I’m going to have time to review them.  And it would be nice to read something for enjoyment, rather than critically and with the intent to compare it with everything else on the ballot.

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