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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
SF Site Review: Blood Engines

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

T.A. Pratt's Blood Engines is a full-blooded, fast-paced, urban fantasy, with perhaps a darker, more cynical, edge than much of that subgenre. It is the beginning of a series, though this book is self-contained, and I suspect the rest will be -- it has the look of a "template" series, like those so common in the mystery genre (see Robert Parker's Spenser books and Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski books, for example). (I note that T. A. Pratt is the name Tim Pratt, author of The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl as well as last year's Hugo winning short story "Impossible Dreams," is using for this new series.)

Marla Mason is the sorcerer who runs the Rust Belt town of Felport. But her rival, Susan Wellstone, plans an intricate spell to overturn her, and Marla's only hope to foil her plans is to find a magical object called a Cornerstone. The only one of which she is aware is in San Francisco, guarded by her old friend Lao Tsung. So she and her sidekick, a not quite human young man called Rondeau, rush across the country -- only to learn that Lao Tsung has been killed, by a horde of South American poison frogs.

Marla needs help from the San Francisco sorcerers to find the Cornerstone. But she soon learns that they are being targeted for elimination by a crazy South American who calls himself Mutex, and who wants to bring back the Aztec gods, complete with blood sacrifice. She and Rondeau begin a sort of whirlwind tour of San Francisco sorcerers, including an Asian herb magician, a practitioner of sex magic, a cybermage, and more. They have one primary ally -- a gay actor named Bradley Bowman who had to quit the movies when he started having prophetic dreams and meeting oracles. And they have several enemies -- Mutex, of course, but also some treacherous sorcerers, and an old god that Marla manages to offend. Besides the magical tour, we get a nice look at some San Francisco history and geography. And a very fast-moving, well-constructed, and not predictable plot.

Besides the plot, I particularly liked the use of magic in this book -- it is fairly logical, and manages mostly to avoid the problem of magical powers scaling conveniently to fit plot needs that plagues so much fantasy. The characters are engaging enough, but I didn't feel I got to know Marla and Rondeau quite enough -- perhaps because they are not on their home turf in this book, perhaps because character developments for them are being saved for future volumes. We do get a good sense that Marla is not by any means a shining heroine -- she is plenty flawed: overconfident, too violent, only too ready to brush aside others in pursuit of her desires. (It is just that the other sorcerers mostly seem even worse!) Bradley Bowman is a nicely drawn character, though, and so too are a number of less important characters, particularly the old god Marla offends, and a San Francisco historical figure who appears late in the game. This is a nice opening to what could be a tasty series of urban fantasy adventures.

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

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