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Poison Sleep
T.A. Pratt
Bantam Spectra, 323 pages

Poison Sleep
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
SF Site Review: Blood Engines
SF Site Review: Blood Engines

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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In the first Marla Mason book, Blood Engines, our heroine was in San Francisco, away from her home city, Felport, an Eastern, industrial city, perhaps rather grubby. So here in Poison Sleep we get the first opportunity to see her on her own beloved turf (except for a short story or two). This works nicely, setting up the frame for future entries in what seems planned to be a continuing series. And the book itself works well -- it's enjoyable, very fast moving, probably even a bit better than the first book.

The plot centers around Genevieve Kelley, an apprentice magician who retreated into a coma of sorts after she was raped, decades prior to the book's action. She has been kept in the Blackwing Institute, a sanatorium for mentally disturbed magicians -- an important place, as a mentally disturbed magician is a very dangerous person. Genevieve herself is a "reweaver" -- she can rearrange reality to match her dreams. As the book begins, she has escaped, and she is more or less randomly reweaving reality in Felport, transporting people to a world of her dreams every so often.

Marla needs to track her down and eliminate her threat to her city, hopefully without killing her. Genevieve is an innocent and basically good person. Marla's job is complicated by two factors. There is a renegade "slow assassin" in town, Zealand, who has been contracted to kill someone -- and that someone, it soon turns out, is Marla. And her enemy is one of the town's other powerful sorcerors, Gregor. Moreover, Genevieve's dreams include a nightmare -- a horribly realized version of her rapist, who she calls Reave. Gregor chooses to ally with Reave against Marla.

At the same time, Marla has engaged a couple of new assistants: a homeless man, not a magician, whose job is simply to organize her life (which is terribly NOT organized), and a Ganconer, or "lovetalker," named Joshua, a man with irresistible sexual attraction to just about anybody. She wants to use Joshua to help her in tense negotiations -- but as things turn out she too falls for him, and begins a potentially dangerous relationship.

This may seem a bit busy, but all these aspects end up quite closely integrated. Marla and her various allies (bedsides Ted and Joshua these include Rondeau (whom we've already met) as well as her "consigliere," Hamil, and a sort of Q (as in James Bond's Q) for her, a technologically oriented magician named Langford) try to track down Genevieve and to battle Reave, while also dealing with the threats from Zealand and Gregor. As I said, this is very fast moving -- there's plenty of action, and plenty of twists. Marla keeps gaining and losing allies. The magic is extremely varied, and more than usually (for a fantasy) is kept in reasonable bounds. That is, it doesn't conveniently scale just enough to advance the plot appropriately at each stage, especially at the end to let Marla win. Indeed, while of course the good guys do win, they don't win without losses, and for that matter they don't even know that some of the bad guys (arguably the worst) have got away scot free by the end. (No doubt setting up further conflicts for future books!)

This looks to be established as a very enjoyable continuing series. It's not perfect: mostly in that it is what it is, a template series, with a heroine that we know must succeed in every book. And for that matter, that heroine is by no means a completely virtuous person, even on her own terms. She makes mistakes -- really bad ones, sometimes. She sometimes (particularly in the first book, but here as well) seems simply to be the least bad bad guy in a group of not very nice people: the sorcerous community. Indeed, in this book the resemblance between Marla's position as the head of Felport's magic community and that of a Mob boss is quite noticeable. But that's a positive in many ways -- Marla isn't a plaster heroine, but a fairly believable badass dealing with a tough job in her imperfect fashion. I'll be reading on.

Copyright © 2008 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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