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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

Marla Mason is back from San Francisco, and it's time for her to kick some ass and take care of business at home once again. Felport's up to its sewers in magical trouble, and as always, it's Marla's job to make sure things don't get too messy. Not only does she have to keep the city's assorted magic practitioners from killing one another over the usual stupid things like privilege, property, territory and ego, but there's been a breakout at the Blackwing Institute, the combination mental hospital/prison which houses some of the nastiest, scariest, most insane sorcerers to wreak havoc in the area. It seems the missing patient, one Genevieve Kelley, has decided to wake up after a very long trauma-induced nap. The bad thing? Genevieve can reweave reality at will, and there's every indication that she's still half-asleep, half-dreaming, and not in control of her immense powers. Worse still, Genevieve's running from something, a relentless nightmare that wants her powers for himself. Oh, and to make things difficult, Marla's the target of a deadly assassin, who knows her almost better than she knows herself. Patient and cunning, this mysterious hitman won't quit until Marla's dead and buried.

Faced with this barrage of threats, Marla gathers her allies close. There's her sidekick/partner, the irreverent, earthy Rondeau, who's perhaps the only being she truly trusts. And then there's Joshua, a Ganconer or Lovetalker, whose inherent magic makes him irresistible to anyone, even the perpetually paranoid Marla. Then there's Ted, an ordinary mortal who Marla hires on as a personal assistant, who doesn't understand the true nature of his employer's business for quite some time. While Marla may have other people she can call upon, these three will prove the most useful as she attempts to thwart the assassin, foil the treacherous plot of someone close to her, and save Genevieve Kelley from forces that have spiraled out of her control. In other words, it's business as usual in Felport.

I was delighted to see T.A. Pratt place the focus on Felport in this book, as it seems like quite the bizarre, intriguing setting, a mostly ordinary city somewhere on the East Coast that's home to a wide variety of memorably strange characters. Marla herself is a strong personality, stomping through the plot with all the grace and subtlety of a Sherman tank, leaving her mark on anything that gets in her way. There's no doubt about it, she's forceful and blunt, which perfectly suits the tone of the story. Rondeau, a trickster and rogue at heart, seems to dance and slide through the cracks, a slippery sort of person who smoothes over any rough edges left in Marla's wake. Joshua, who can have anything he wants just by virtue of being who and what he is, is alternately endearing and creepy, the sort of guy you don't want to turn your back on, or entrust with your girlfriend. Ted, the likeable everyman, comes in handy for those times when Marla needs to explain some of the more esoteric aspects of the world they inhabit.

And that leads me to the magical systems that make up such a large part of the setting. Simply put, they're numerous and strange. Pratt tosses off references to necromancy, nihilomancy, chaos magic, mad cultists, pyromancy, various kinds of divination, and much more, imbuing each style of magic with its own personality, managing to convey all manner of ideas with just a few well-chosen words here and there. I can't be sure, but I'm pretty sure Pratt's making some of these up on the spot as he goes along, and yet it all works. It may all come from the same place, but every practitioner is different, which makes for some mind bogglingly cool concepts. Half the fun of the Marla Mason novels is seeing what will turn up on each new page, and how it all interacts and fits together.

The plot, and the mysteries which lie at the heart of the plot, are past-paced and energetic, filled with a proper sense of urgency and danger. It's hard to find a good place to stop, especially when Pratt tosses out yet another surprise. Believe me when I say he doesn't let up until the very end, and predictability is not something one can attribute to these books.

Poison Sleep is a worthy follow-up to Blood Engines, expanding upon the setting and nature of Marla Mason and her world, and, to be blunt, it's damned good. Wildly imaginative, full of surprises and madcap concepts, it takes full advantage of urban fantasy's potential to go above and beyond the norm in its own strange way. I can honestly say that no one writes quite like Tim Pratt, and this series has rapidly become one of my must-reads. Here's hoping Marla Mason has plenty of adventures left in her.

Copyright © 2008 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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