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Grim Tides
T.A. Pratt
Tropism Press, 226 pages

Grim Tides
T.A. Pratt
T.A. Pratt lives in Oakland, California with partner H.L. Shaw, and works as a senior editor for a trade publishing magazine.

T.A. Pratt Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Marla Mason Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'Crapsey sat up, groaning. His tongue felt like it had been replaced in the night by a mummified rodent which, given his proximity to Elsie Jarrow, wasn't an impossibility.'
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Anti-hero Marla Mason was chief sorcerer for the city of Felport, until a disastrous encounter with a version of herself from an alternate dimension resulted in her being stripped of her office, and most of the powers that came with it. As Grim Tides begins, Marla is in exile on the Hawaiian island of Maui, living courtesy of her friend and long time associate Rondeau. Having no express purpose in life, her vague plan is to offer her services as an occult detective, regardless of the fact that she's far more suited to knocking down doors than she is to seeking out subtle clues. Naturally, it is while Marla is adrift, with few resources and almost friendless, that a powerful group of enemies choose to mount a murderous attack. The Marla Mason Revenge Squad include the one-armed chaos witch Nicolette, Crapsey the psychopathic alternate dimension version of Rondeau, and others with special talents. Chief among those coming for Marla is Elsie Jarrow, the world's most notorious and powerful sorcerer. Add to this the fact that Marla's future husband, the Walking Death, has seen a likely future in which Marla will soon join him in the afterlife, and things look grim indeed. Will this be Marla Mason's last hurrah, or is there more life in those ass-kicking boots?

Although apparently teeming with unlimited peril, the Interweb can often be a force for freedom of choice, and the presence of Grim Tides is a proof of this concept. When the publisher of the previous Marla Mason titles foolishly decided to give up on the series, author Tim Pratt refused to let his creation die. The last published title had ended on a cliffhanger, and he knew that his readers were keen to know what happened next. The solution was an appeal for funding via the crowd source phenomenon that is Kickstarter. A whole lot of work and goodwill later, an amount comparable to a publishers advance was raised, and in due course, Grim Tides arrived. Happily, publishing in this manner has done nothing to diminish Pratt's capacity to produce darkly amusing action oriented adventure, and the appeal of his main character stays intact. There is still something vulnerable and likeable about Mason, which is one thing that sets her aside from the testosterone poisoned horde of screaming women stomping through fantasy fiction these days. In terms of the story itself, Grim Tides is not quite business as usual due to the fact that Marla is literally out of her element. It's quite a wrench, not unlike how finding Harry Potter forcibly transferred to a new school might have felt. But the scenario does allow the character time to think, and begin a life change. This book is very much about casting off the old and finding that new direction. Some elements of the story, such as Marla playing detective, feel half-hearted and there mostly to fill space until the real plot begins. When the main story does get going, it's every bit as much fun as previous Marla outings, and ultimately points the character in a direction that offers broad horizons. Tampering with a previously successful formula is never a decision to be taken lightly, but in this case it works like the literary equivalent of a rejuvenating tonic. Almost all of what made Marla Mason appealing -- and set her that vital notch above the competition -- is retained, while at the same time stripping away that which was on the verge of becoming stale.

While T.A. Pratt is still very much involved with mainstream publishing, he has shown with this publication that it's a realistic and achievable aim for authors to continue producing their favoured works, even if the juggernaut of publishing says no. At least, those who either already have a fan-base, or can manage to work one up. More projects using the same methods are planned, thus continuing Marla Mason's story into what may be its most interesting and variable phase yet. Grim Tides is a worthy addition to what has gone before, and due to the change it represents, can also be taken as a new starting point.

Copyright © 2013 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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