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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: Poison Sleep
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 Nathan Brazil


'The woman opened her eyes -- they were violet, the colour of crushed flowers -- and clenched Marla's hand.

"His mouth," she said, her breath a hot wind on Marla's face. "His reeking mouth."'

Poison Sleep is the second instalment in the adventures of Marla Mason. The more I read of this character the more she comes across as a calculated cross pollination between three or four of the successful female leads in the genre. T.A. Pratt has taken a pinch here and a scoop there, tossed in his own special ingredients, and come up with something that has most of the strengths and few of the weaknesses of its contemporaries. Not that the series is without fault, but more of that later. The story commences in Felport, where Marla is Chief Sorcerer, with a problem at the Blackwing Institute. This is a kind of Azkaban for grown ups, where psychologically disturbed sorcerers -- some criminal some just ill -- are kept away from society. One of the patients is a woman called Genevieve, who has the ability to reweave reality according to her whim. She is not a criminal, but rather a rape victim, whose trauma has made her unstable, and therefore highly dangerous. Genevieve has been mostly catatonic for 15 years, until a failed attempt to break out one of the real criminals, accidentally caused her to wake. By the time Marla Mason arrives on the scene, Genevieve has escaped, and due to her mental state and near limitless powers, is considered an immediate and serious danger to Felport.

The action takes place in Felport, which has an interesting multi-layered feel to it, and a slightly Alice in Wonderland dream world, which Genevieve has created in her own pocket reality. The problem, it seems, is that Genevieve has become the victim of an avatar, within her own mind, based on the identity of her rapist. This self-styled King of Nightmares, is able to leech her powers, and is invading the real world. Matters aren't helped by the fact that the King of Nightmares is allied with one of Marla's rivals, who has also employed the talents of Zealand, a rogue slow-assassin, to kill her. Slow-assassins are so named, not because they're dimwits, but because they can track victims for long periods, letting them know that certain death is coming, but not when or how. Assisting Marla are her regular sidekick, Rondeau, and two newcomers, Ted, a homeless, former maths teacher, hired at random to act as her PA, and Joshua, a Lovetalker, whose innate magical ability means people want to like him, and easily fall under his influence. Including, for a time, Marla herself. There's a good dollop of character development in Poison Sleep, and a much deeper exposé of Felport, including the way that its almost feudal magical community functions. The way that Marla reacts to Joshua, and how other sorcerers deal with her, creates interesting tensions. Central to all is the problem of Genevieve and her daily battles -- at first within her own world, then in the city of Felport -- with the King of Nightmares.

I enjoyed the way that Marla's usual, unsubtle approach, to dealing with problems is shown to be lacking, forcing her to find other solutions. There are a few negatives. Rondeau, mostly hangs around like a refugee from Miami Vice, doing nothing in particular, and Joshua's role was a bit too obvious for me. Although I liked the way his quite subtle abilities were explained and handled. The occasionally juvenile crudity in Marla's speech, and actions, grated a little. I couldn't help but think that someone smart enough to know all that magic would, at least, have a better vocabulary, and a better understanding of when violence is not the answer. The worst problem for me, without giving too much away, was the switching of one perfectly good character from his original role, into something like an herbivorous version of Venom. As the story develops, so do the characters, and that bodes well for the future. Excepting those characters, of whom I'd like to have seen more, who develop all the way to being dead. However, with a mind as fertile as T.A. Pratt's, I have faith that the next batch will be just as interesting.

In conclusion, Poison Sleep is a worthy successor to Blood Engines, chock full of entertainment, and pregnant with the promise of what is to come in Dead Reign and Spell Games, the novels currently in production. I look forward to the further adventures of Marla Mason, who shows every sign of edging ahead of her competitors, both in the fictional world, and in the world of publishing.

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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