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Blood Engines
T.A. Pratt
Bantam Spectra, 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: Poison Sleep
SF Site Review: Blood Engines
SF Site Review: Blood Engines

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


"Marla gritted her teeth. She didn't trust these people to wipe their own asses, let alone avenge her friend, but she knew that wasn't a rational reaction. She just liked taking care of things herself."
Once upon a time, action heroes were all male. Then came Laurell K. Hamilton, and her tough-as-old-boots character, the vampire hunter Anita Blake. This formula was soon transmuted into a second character, a dark and rather too sexual fantasy heroine named Meredith Gentry. Ever since then others have been trying to duplicate Hamilton's best-selling ways, with varying levels of success. The latest to action/fantasy heroine to catch my eye is T.A. Pratt's small town sorcerer, Marla Mason. Urban, contemporary, supernatural, designer violent, acidic humour, the book has all the usual ingredients. But is it a good read, or just another few hundred pages worth of bandwagon jumping?

Blood Engines differs from many of its contemporaries in being both an introduction and a complete story. Yes, there are elements left hanging, for future instalments, but the story is essentially integral, and that makes a nice change from the host of authors with an eye on the inevitable trilogy. Marla Mason, is the guardian and chief sorcerer of Felport, a place which does not even feature in this story. She comes across as part Zatanna part Elektra, with a dash of American Psycho. Tagging along with Marla is her associate, Rondeau, who is described as an inhuman psychic entity, currently possessing the body of an average human male, which rather nastily, he has held since it belonged to a little homeless boy. The pair turn up in San Francisco looking for something called the Cornerstone. This is a rare, magic enhancing artefact, which Marla needs in order to counter a deadly spell soon to be cast against her by a rival sorcerer. The last time Marla heard of the Cornerstone, it was in the care of an old ally, Lao Tsung. The first problem, as she quickly discovers, is that Lao Tsung is dead, apparently murdered, and the only clue to his demise is a poisonous golden frog. The second problem is that the Cornerstone has been stolen by the killer, a worshipper of Aztec magic named Mutex. What follows is an entertaining tour of who's who in San Francisco's magical community, as stewardship passes among them, due to further murders by the seemingly unstoppable Mutex. Among them we encounter Finch, a sorcerer who gets his power from pornography, Dalton, a technomancer who believes we are all living inside a computer simulation, and Bethany, a necromancer whose magical power derives from cannibalism. Helping Marla keep ahead of the game, if only just, are Rondeau, with his gift of tongues and flaming curses, and Bradley Bowman, a fallen Hollywood star referred to simply as B. The latter has the ability to predict certain future events, via interlocutors who claim to be minor league oracles, and can be found in places such as the neighbourhood rubbish bin. Marla herself is a worldly wise, utterly ruthless magic wielder, and crude martial arts exponent. Just for good measure, she has a couple of magical weapons; a knife that can slice through metaphysical substance as easily as normal flesh, and a semi-sentient purple-white cloak. When given the mental command to reverse from healing white, the cloak turns her into an insanely fast berserker killing machine. However, the price for each use of this fearsome weapon is to lose another piece of her humanity.

In summary, Blood Engines is a fast paced, competently written romp, which equals and occasionally betters most of its genre competitors. Marla is tough, but not testosterone poisoned, and the world in which she moves provides great entertainment value. The plot is not as simple as it first appears, contains lots of pop culture references, snappy dialogue, glimpses down side alleys and inventive storytelling. Watch out Laurell K, 'cause T.A. Pratt is a writer who may be able to beat you at your own game.

Copyright © 2008 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

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