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Blood Engines
T.A. Pratt
Bantam, 338 pages

Blood Engines
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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

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When Marla Mason, sorcerer overlord/guardian of the East Coast city of Felport, travels to San Francisco in search of a magical artifact, she expects it to be a quick trip. Get in, get what she needs, get out with a minimum of threats, intimidation, violence, and/or magical persuasion. She certainly doesn't expect to get involved in some major trouble involving San Francisco's local sorcerers and a mysterious threat picking them off one by one. Heck, if it was up to Marla, she'd wish the person killing them the best of luck, and skip town in a hurry. Unfortunately, her mission is a matter of life and death -- hers, to be exact. And so Marla and her constant companion, Rondeau, follow a bloody trail through the streets and mysteries of San Francisco, one step ahead of (and sometimes two steps behind) a maniac of disturbing power and frightening ambition. They'll have to deal with rival sorcerers, an angry god, poisonous frogs, killer hummingbirds, a movie star turned half-insane oracle, alternate realities, and bizarre magic of all sorts as they try to survive... and even then, it won't be easy. Luckily, Marla Mason didn't get to the top of the food chain in Felport without picking up some decidedly nasty tricks and an unfailing will to survive.

Blood Engines is a brain-twisting, superb beginning to a new urban fantasy from Tim Pratt, best known for his previous book, The Adventures of Rangergirl. To sum it up in a sentence, it's all about Weird Magic. Amazingly strange, fascinating ideas spring from the pages, one after another with surprising frequencies, blending a dozen or more schools of magical thought into a psychedelic tapestry of unexpected depth. Chinese myth, Aztec beliefs, postmodern technomagic, sex magic (anyone who can use the term pornomancer with a straight face gets points from me), historical legends, and so much more make an appearance, all logical in their own strange ways. I can honestly say that Pratt's worked out a series of interlocking systems unlike any urban fantasy I've seen in a long time, creating a compelling world that's definitely worth exploring in more detail.

The characters are memorable, to say the least, starting with the protagonist, Marla Mason. With only hints at her background to go by, we're left to figure her out from her do-anything, pragmatic attitude, and the casually cruel streak that runs through her actions. She's violent, blunt, cautious, prone to making poor decisions as she pursues her own interests, loyal and yet capable of using even her closest friends as tools or weapons when the circumstances demand. She's honorable, but people learn to watch just what sort of bargains they make with her, and her capacity for coldness is almost surprising. And she's a joy to watch in action. Her sidekick/partner/friend, Rondeau, is gleefully hedonistic, self-centered, mysterious, and full of surprises, and the perfect foil to Marla's overbearing demeanor. Bradley Bowman, AKA B, the movie star-turned-seer, has an almost-childlike appeal as he wanders through the plot at his own pace, providing some unexpected aid and innovative solutions to various problems, As for a certain snake god... well, I sincerely hope that we see him and his skewed sense of honor and practicality again soon, even if Marla might not welcome his return.

Pratt has an uncanny ability to infuse his characters and setting with a certain weight and history. With just a few hints here and there, I was convinced that there was so much more to be told regarding Marla and Rondeau's histories, and I was left wanting to learn more about their past dealings, and their home city of Felport. I'm already looking forward to the next in the series, which promises to expand upon what we already know, and which will flesh out Felport to a much larger extent. Seeing Marla on her home turf, with access to her allies and resources, is bound to be entertaining, and probably messy for her enemies. I've read a lot of urban fantasies, and believe me, Blood Engines is new and different and not to be missed.

Copyright © 2007 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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