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Dead Reign
T.A. Pratt
Bantam Spectra, 324 pages

Dead Reign
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 Michael M Jones

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In her years as chief sorcerer of Felport, Marla Mason has dealt with any number of magical threats and occult menaces, slapping down unimaginable horrors and upstart magical practitioners on a weekly basis. Whether she's playing cat herder with the prominent sorcerers of the city, or preventing necromancers from creating servants out of the recently deceased, she's got it all under control. Well, mostly.

Much to her disgust, she has to put together the Founders' Ball, a once-every-five-years celebration that's part political hobnobbing, part appeasement of the spirits that originally founded Felport. Marla's great at blasting people with magic, not so great at playing nice with the rich and powerful.

And then things get extremely bad, when Death himself shows up in town, looking to reclaim an ancient artifact which just so happens to be in Marla's possession. Death, accompanied by a cranky necromancer and the reanimated, mummified corpse of John Wilkes Booth, isn't about to take no for an answer, and he has the power to make Marla's life miserable. Now she's exiled from her own city, far from her center of power and closest allies, and looking to face off against Death. Well, a Death. Turns out she may be able to get some leverage against him if she travels to the Underworld. But even if Marla can pull an Orpheus, can she win back her city and defeat Death in face-to-face combat?

The Marla Mason series continues to astound and fascinate, with its audacious, inventive take on the typical urban fantasy setting. There's nothing else quite like it, in terms of attitude and weirdness, and Dead Reign really goes that extra step towards providing an enjoyable experience. From the idea of Death as a cyclical position, one generation succeeding another at regular intervals, to the unique relationship sorcerers and spirits have with the regular functioning of Felport, nifty ideas permeate the story at every turn. And honestly, I can't get enough of John Wilkes Booth, in all his theatrical, educated, pompous, racist glory, wandering around as a zombie. That's just one of the odd tidbits which set this series apart from others. T.A. Pratt maintains a healthy balance of weird and acceptable, keeping things from drifting too far out of accessibility.

This book sets up some very interesting possibilities and implications for stories yet to come. The mystery of Marla's cloak -- an artifact with a mind and a hunger all its own -- is explored in part, and a decision made that will definitely come back to haunt her someday. Likewise, the deal she makes for the power she needs to win out will most assuredly bite her in the rear when she least expects... like other deals she's made in the past. But that's part of Marla's questionable appeal: she's tough, no-nonsense, attitude-laden and capable of making big mistakes even though she's extremely competent at what she does.

Plain and simple, this has become one of my favorite urban fantasy series, and Dead Reign does nothing but set the bar higher for future installments. I wish this one didn't end with something of a cliffhanger, because it's going to be a long wait until we see how it's resolved. Here's hoping Marla Mason has a nice, long run.

Copyright © 2009 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.


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