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Literature / Three Parts Dead

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When a goddess neared death, the needs of her faithful, and of those to whom she was bound in contract, stuck like hooks in her soul. She could not desert her obligations, nor honor them and remain intact. The tension tore her mind to shreds of ectoplasm, leaving behind a body of inchoate divine power that a competent Craftswoman could reassemble into something that looked and functioned like the old goddess. But...
Well. Much like Tara's revenants back at Edgemont, a being once resurrected was never quite the same.
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Three Parts Dead is the first book of the Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone. Its basic plot is: God Is Dead, and His estate is contested.

When Kos Everburning is found dead by His priesthood, the prestigious Concern of Kelethras, Albrecht and Ao is called in to salvage something of the situation with their Necromantic arts. Representing the firm are junior partner Elayne Kevarian and our protagonist, probational new hire Tara Abernathy.

Tara was recently expelled from the Hidden Schools, a university of the Craft (the local name for magic) hidden above the clouds. Given she was expelled right off the balcony of said flying school, it's clear that she has made some powerful enemies, and her future employment as a practitioner of the Craft is by no means certain; she badly needs to impress her new employers.

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Within her first few hours on the job, Tara narrowly survives plummeting from the heavens again, befriends a powerful vampire, is forced by circumstances to steal a gargoyle's face, and acquires accomplices in a chain-smoking priest and a junkie cop. Then things get complicated.

Followed in the series by Two Serpents Rise. See the series' page for tropes that are common to the whole Craft Sequence.


Three Parts Dead provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Tara. Cat, even outside of Justice, also kicks her fair share of ass.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Ms. Kevarian explaining how Denovo manages to stay young.
    He drinks the life of those who come too close to him. Steals their youth. Also, he moisturizes.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Alexander Denovo is one of the greatest Craftsmen in history. And it's not enough for him. He's trying to find a way to become a god while using his mind-control Craft to avoid the usual godly weaknesses.
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  • Badass in Distress: Elayne Kevarian when Denovo robs her of her will - again. She eventually manages to break free, though, and gets back at him at the end of the book.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The monster from the church boiler room, along with the dagger that Abelard finds.
    • Early on, Ms. Kevarian notes how cloudy the weather is, and Cat later points out that this isn't typical weather for Alt Coulumb. This is because the Hidden Schools are lurking over the city, allowing Denovo easier access to his 'lab'.
  • Evil Teacher: Professor Denovo, Tara's former mentor, is a monster in ways that take most of the book for the reader to really appreciate. He once stripped both Tara and Elayne of free will, and pulls it again on the latter towards the end of the story. He is a self-made Humanoid Abomination. And he has a completely plausible plan to make himself something rather greater than a god.
  • Fantastic Drug: Vampire bites are drug-like, including physical addiction and withdrawal symptoms. There's also addiction to Justice, which turns out to be just as Denovo planned.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Captain Pelham isn't really a paragon of good moral character, but he manages his vampirism ethically, without drinking from unwilling subjects.
  • Go Look at the Distraction: Tara mind-controls Cat into checking in on Raz while they're in the hospital, so that she can talk to Shale by herself.
  • God Is Dead: Protestors start chanting outside the temple when they discover Kos is not, in fact, "contemplating his glory".
  • God Was My Copilot: Or, in this case, my/Abelard's cigarette flame.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Abelard chain smokes cigarettes, and is, in fact, the only character that's actually shown smoking. He's also one of the nicest characters in the book.
    • Priests of Kos are also immune to all the negative consequences of smoking, but they get hit hard when Kos dies.
  • Hive Mind: In Alt Coulumb, justice is administered by Justice— an (all-volunteer!) corps of part-time humanoid monstrosities. When their Game Face is on they have extreme strength and endurance, no distinguishing features, and a single incorruptible, implacable mind. Said mind turns out to be that of a dead goddess, and her original followers aren't happy about it.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: How Judge Cathbad introduces himself.
    I am Judge Cathbad, son of Norbad.
  • I'm Going to Hell for This: After using mind control to get Cat out of the way, ironically by telling her how Denovo did the same to Tara and several other students to use their power, Tara admits as much to herself afterward.
  • It's Personal: The Kos case becomes this to Tara when Denovo gets involved.
    Ms. Kevarian: Remember, your first duty is to our client, not revenge.
    Tara: If I have to raise a god from the dead to defeat Alexander Denovo, I will raise a hundred. I’ll bring Kos back ten times greater than he was.
  • Kill It with Fire: The sorcerous priests of Kos Everburning rather naturally start throwing fire around when it comes time to do violence. Especially notable in being the only way Novice Abelard can fend off a horrifying shadow creature out to feed on his soul. He uses his cigarette to harm it, which turns out to be a clue as to Kos's real fate.
  • Kiss of Death: A delayed variety - while Kevarian is under Denovo's control, he kisses her, and she uses the opportunity to breathe Craft into him, which he thought she couldn't do. Then, at the end of the book, it turns out that she passed him the creature from the church boiler room, and uses it to kill him as revenge.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Denovo to Cardinal Gustave.
  • Magically Binding Contract: The Craft and Practical Theology are both powerfully rooted in these. In this book in particular, it's fundamental to the plot. Kelethras, Albrecht and Ao is portrayed at least as much like a law firm as it is like a cabal of necromancers, and an unfavourable contract coming due at just the wrong time seems to have been what killed Kos Everburning.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Tara using mind control on Cat (see Go Look At The Distraction) causes her to grow suspicious of her, and eventually leads to her believing that she's working with the gargoyles, whom she believes are responsible for Judge Cabot's death.
  • Not Quite Dead: Both Kos and Seril avoided death by hiding a reserve part of their power and a full portion of their personality. Kos hid his in Abelard's cigarette, while Seril divided hers among her gargoyles.
  • Our Gargoyles Rock: The Guardians can take human form, but in their natural form they each have a completely unique appearance. They are immensely physically powerful and quick, too. They are servants of Seril, the city's moon goddess and guardian of order, created to be a supernatural police force; at her death, they went crazy and were banished from the city. Except, they didn't all go crazy, and their goddess is Not Quite Dead.
  • Psychological Projection: When Cat sees Tara communing with Seril, she assumes that she's a junkie, and helped the gargoyles after Judge Cabot's murder in exchange for a fix. Cat is herself a junkie, using vampire bites to cope whenever she isn't connected to Justice, which produces its own high, and had recently used Pelham to scratch that particular itch.
  • Shaming the Mob: Gustave does this to protesters who have realized that Kos is actually dead.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Tara's town towards her when she was caught raising the dead, ironically done to help protect them. Magical holy pitchforks, but pitchforks none the less. It didn't help that she felt compelled to have a hearty chuckle while doing it.
  • Vampires Own Nightclubs: Sort of. Alt Coulomb is home to the Xiltanda, a nightclub named after the "Quechal" word for the underworld. It was started after the God Wars by those on the pro-Craft side of things, and while its founders aren't explicitly vampires, it is heavily patronized by vampires and others in that "subculture".
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Gustave murdered Judge Cabot when he found out that he was trying to assist Kos in trying to bring Seril back to full power, since he believed that Seril abandoned Kos during the God Wars.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Captain Pelham chews out Cat for taking advantage of him while he was unconscious to sate her addiction for vampire bites, even asking if she'd ever heard of the word 'consent'.
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