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Friday, September 28, 2007

"Blood Engines" by T.A. Pratt

Order “Blood EnginesHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Besides creating chapbooks, co-editing the zine Flytrap, and working as a senior editor / book reviewer at Locus Magazine, Tim Pratt also writes SF/fantasy novels (The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl), poetry, and short fiction (published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, the upcoming Solaris Book of New Fantasy, etc.) including the 2007 Hugo Award-winning “Impossible Dreams”. As T.A. Pratt, the author is producing a new urban fantasy series which kicks off with “Blood Engines”.

On the surface, “Blood Engines” seems like any number of urban fantasy novels out there. Strong leading heroine? Check. Contemporary backdrop? Check. Supernatural action, sex, and sarcastic humor? Check, check & check. Yet, “Blood Engines” has more going for it than you might think. For instance, in most of the urban fantasy series that I’ve read, the opening volume usually spends a lot of time on set-up and ends up leaving the reader with more questions than answers. Not so in “Blood Engines” which is basically a self-contained story. Sure, there are a couple of threads left unresolved that will get picked up in the already announced sequels, but never once did I feel that I was reading a set-up novel. Part of the reason is that the leading protagonist reads like a veteran character—apparently Marla Mason has appeared in previous short stories by Mr. Pratt so that has something to do with it. So from the very beginning of the book Ms. Mason, chief sorcerer of the city Felport, and her associate Rondeau, an “inhuman psychic entity that long ago possessed the body of a little homeless boy”, are thrown into the fire. In short, the two are in San Francisco searching for a powerful artifact that will help prevent a rival from usurping Marla’s position as chief sorcerer. What should be a fairly simple job becomes vastly more complicated when an acquaintance turns up murdered and the artifact in question is stolen for use in a diabolical, world-threatening plot that has something to do with poisonous golden frogs, hummingbirds, blood sacrifices and Aztec mythology. Throw in a sex party, alternate universes, ancient gods, some interesting magic concepts, and a wild cast of supporting characters, and you have a story that is just as fun & outrageous as it sounds.

Character-wise, “Blood Engines” is a bit of a mixed bag. Marla Mason is obviously the star of the show getting the bulk of the third-person narrative, and what I liked about her is that she knows what she’s about (her strengths and her weaknesses), she doesn’t take crap from anyone, and even though she’s the good guy, she’s definitely not a saint. Plus, besides being a “jill-of-all-trades” sorcerer, she also has martial arts training, possesses a knife that can cut through the metaphysical and owns a bad-ass cloak that is as powerful as it is dangerous. Rondeau meanwhile is not human, comes from unknown origins and has a gift for tongues, or more specifically Cursing. Basically, there’s not really that much to Rondeau and he’s more or less there for the banter and the funny quips, but he is open sexually, which is actually a common theme with some of the other characters including Marla. Then there’s Bradley Bowman or ‘B’, a former actor with psychic abilities who shares part of the narrative with Marla. While B isn’t that well-developed, I liked him better than Rondeau and I hope that he’ll be featured more prominently in future books. Of the rest, there’s your usual blend of villains, allies and those that fall somewhere in-between. Mutex plays the main baddie and while he had some impressive abilities, the motives behind his overall actions were a bit thin. Personally, my favorites in the whole book were some of the side characters, particularly such unconventional sorcerers as the pornomancer Finch, the technomancer Dalton and the cannibal Bethany.

Regarding the writing in the book, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of Mr. Pratt’s other works so I can’t comment on that, but from what I’ve seen in “Blood Engines” I’d say he’s pretty competent. The author displays a good grasp of the world that he’s created, specifically the magical elements some of which are quite unique; his research seems detailed, especially the city of San Francisco; and he knows how to write a page-turner—I finished “Blood Engines” in just over a day ;) About the only thing I didn’t like was I thought the metaphors were too simple & clichéd and I thought the pop culture references (Bruce Lee, the Beatles, Godzilla) too obvious, though I did see one to post-rock band …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead ;)

All in all I enjoyed “Blood Engines”. Obviously I’m not an expert on urban fantasy. Heck, there are countless series that I haven’t started yet, but I am a fan of the subgenre and I’ve read my fair share of books that fall in that category. Whether or not that makes my opinion worth anything is up to you, but I believe T.A. Pratt’sBlood Engines” is worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of urban fantasy and want to try something that’s recognizable, but distinctive. For those who do give it a spin, note that volumes two (Poison Sleep) and three (Dead Reign) are due out in 2008, with “Grift Sense” following in 2009…

2 comments:

Katie said...

This sounds really good. I love the urban fantasy stuff, plus the cover is pretty. I can't help that I'm shallow and drawn to the pretty ones. ;)

Robert said...

Yeah, I think it's a pretty good urban fantasy and I like the cover as well. I wanted to say something about, but never could fit in the review. The artist is Dan Dos Santos and he's pretty good!

http://www.dandossantos.com

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