Finished reading THREE PARTS DEAD by Max Gladstone (Hugo Voter Packet)
A God has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.
Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help is Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead God, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.
But when the duo discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and the city’s slim hope of survival.
Back cover blurbs are weird. This book has such a strong ensemble that it’s decidedly odd to see it rendered down to just Tara and Abelard. He’s not her “only help” by a long chalk. What of Elayne Kevarian, Tara’s formidable boss (played by an icy Lucy Liu in my mind), or sort-of magical beat cop Cat, or vampire pirate captain Raz Pelham, all of whom are instrumental in their own way to building and defending the case? The only reason I can think of for singling out Abelard as the only companion to get a mention is that the blurb writer wanted desperately to hint at a romance subplot. Or maybe to bump up the book’s noir cred: unlikely crime-solving duo, city on the edge of violence, chain-smoking…
I’m only complaining because I liked this book a lot. Partly because it lines up with a lot of my own thoughts on magic. If you look into ye olde English ceremonial magic - the type John Dee and Aleister Crowley and so on practised - you discover that none of the power was supposed to come from the wizard; it all comes from petitioning creatures from other planes to do stuff for you (in contrast to, say, HARRY POTTER, where the magic is inside the wizards, some people have and some don’t, which I find tends to lead to problematic readings). Gladstone takes this idea and runs with it: magic in THREE PARTS DEAD is basically a branch of law, governed by arcane pacts and contracts (literal pen-and-paper ones in some cases). And somehow that doesn’t bleed any of the fantasical sense of wonder out of it.
Interestingly, I ran across N. K. Jemisin’s post about overly systematised magic in modern fantasy the same evening I finished this. You could read Gladstone’s magic as a logical extrapolation - maybe even a criticism, or at least a bit of fun-poking - of D&D/Brandon Sanderson-style supersystematic magic. If it’s systematic and predictable, then at some point it’s going to involve paperwork.