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Thursday, October 29, 2009

review: Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt

Marla Mason #1:
Blood Engines
by T.A. Pratt

Meet Marla Mason - smart, saucy, slightly wicked witch of the East Coast...
Sorcerer Marla Mason, small-time guardian of the city of Felport, has a big problem. A rival is preparing a powerful spell that could end Marla's life - and, even worse, wreck her city. Marla's only chance of survival is to boost her powers with the Cornerstone, a magical artifact hidden somewhere in San Francisco. But when she arrives there, Marla finds that the quest isn't going to be quite as cut-and-dried as she expected...and that some of the people she needs to talk to are dead. It seems that San Francisco's top sorcerers are having troubles of their own - a mysterious assailant has the city's magical community in a panic, and the local talent is being (gruesomely) picked off one by one.
With her partner-in-crime, Rondeau, Marla is soon racing against time through San Francisco's alien streets, dodging poisonous frogs, murderous hummingbirds, cannibals, and a nasty vibe from the local witchery, who suspect that Marla herself may be behind the recent murders. And if Marla doesn't figure out who is killing the city's finest in time, she'll be in danger of becoming a magical statistic herself...

adult fiction ; urban fantasy { genre
PG-13 for violence and sexual content { rating
September 25, 2007 { first released
Spectra paperback (368 pages) { review edition
bought at used price { acquisition ; ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
I actually discovered Dead Reign, the third book in the series, as I was browsing for Terry Prachett books. The fact that Marla's face is half-hidden by her cloak on that cover really was sort of an anomaly since many covers use the model's face as a seller. I thought this meant that the main character was not conventional, and I am very glad I was right.
After getting the feel of the premise and reading the first few pages of the second book, I immediately added it and book three (the only ones in the store) to my shopping cart. My friend Ah Yuan of GAL Novelty later got me this first volume from a used book store.

First Lines
Marla Mason crouched in the alley beside the City Lights book store and threw her runes. The square of royal-purple velvet spread before her on the ground was covered by a scattering of objects -- a garlic clove, a withered cigarette butt, a two-headed novelty quarter, fingernail clippings, and the stone from the head of a toad.

Overall Rating

This series is a refreshing look at magic that is tied to the contemporary world and its technologies. The characters are well fleshed-out in their motivations and controversial tastes through an open-minded main character, introducing marginal world-views without bastardizing them. Overall an exciting and thought-provoking read with fast-paced action and a no-nonsense anti-heroine leading the charge.

review posted to, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari


Unlike many other urban fantasies, the magic in this series is deeply intertwined with the monuments of contemporary culture - there are sorcerers that draw their power from cities, trains, and even super-computers. Their workings are explained in some detail, but not enough to ruin their fantastical appeal. The action is described fluidly and the spells are portrayed in a practical light, taking into account casting time and magical sources.
There are unabashed debates about controversial topics like homosexuality, BDSM, and cannibalism, while at the same time introducing the reader to unique concepts such as the "simulation world" theory and the "blood engine" beliefs that gives this volume its title. Different mythologies meet head to head, specifically the Aztec and Chinese gods, dispelling any pretense of there being only a singular mythology.
The overall plot with the sorcerer serial killer was not so much mystery-centric as it is suspenseful, where we never know when he will strike next and who is working for or against him.


Marla Mason is a kickass anti-heroine with a strong sense of self-preservation, who won't hesitate to leave her companions behind if she feels her own life is at stake. She is agoraphobic (fearful of open spaces), having grown up and now drawing her magic from the highly industrial city she Protects. She is fiercely practical, seeing everyone as either a threat, useful, or useless, but she judges everyone with an open mind, accepting of their special thinking even if she herself does not agree. She fights hard or goes down trying, carrying around with her a cloak of dark magic that lends her great power, but at the same time threatens to break both her body and her mind. Overall a very extreme character, we see towards the end that she does care about her friends, but only to the extent that she expects them to survive and vows to avenge them if they can't.
Rondeau is her sidekick, a flippant, sarcastic, and "adventurously" promiscuous spirit that grew up in the body of the street boy whose mind he had taken control of. His past is mysterious and quite possibly very dark, but he is fiercely loyal to Marla, who saved him from the streets.
The side characters are all very unique, bringing with them each a different facet of Pratt's modern world of magic - pornomancers, technomancers, even "projection" prophets and witches of time. They come alive through their intellectual debates with Marla (rather than pure action), and further supports the idea that magic is not limited to wand-waving or nature, but bent to the personalities and environments of their users.


Now, after reading some better crafted adult fiction in between starting and finishing this book, I can see that the writing is unremarkable though satisfactory, perhaps better suited for a teen reader. However, the risky subject matter and unconventional interpretation of urban fantasy makes up for it without question. The bits of snarky dialogue between Marla and Rondeau as well as the distinct voices given to each of the characters also makes this an engaging read.


While there are some loose ends that could be explored further in the series, this volume does well to resolve most issues with antagonists and consequences. The few mysteries that remain are wholly character-centric and not especially emphasized, such as the origins of Marla's cape, or if B will appear in the second novel.
This ending does not push for the reader to foam at the mouth and demand the second book, but it does work well as a world-builder to lead people into reading more in the series.

Marla Mason Series
#1 Blood Engines (2007)
#2 Poison Sleep (2008)
#3 Dead Reign (2008)
#4 Spell Games (2009)

Reading Challenges
1st in Series Challenge (2009) → Marla Mason Series
GLBT Challenge (2009) → GLBT characters

Meme Features
Cover Cravings: Dan Dos Santos
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Ah Yuan said...

lol about the covers - Really? I dunno, I personally find it really, reallyyyyyyy hard to find a full face of a girl/woman that isn't cut up or shadowed or w/e. I especiallyyyyy hate the new trend of those Exposed Neck covers inspired by the vampire mania. Ughhhhh.

But then, I'm speaking from my experience in YA covers. I'm not too well versed in how urban fantasy covers are like, except that apparently they're all women in leather (... it's what I've been told. *is frightened*)

I did try the first chapter of this book a while back and I'll be honest, the voice/style of the narration doesn't quite grab me. =// But then again, this might also be because I was checking out that 1st chapter preview late at night and I'm more impatient with my readings when my eyes are all tired, so. ^^; It's good to know that the book makes use of multiple mythologies though! =D