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Monday, March 24, 2008

"Poison Sleep" by T.A. Pratt

Official Marla Mason Website
Order “Poison SleepHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “Blood Engines

Urban fantasy is all the rage these days and while I’m concerned about the eventual over-saturation of the market it’s definitely a good time to be a fan of the subgenre, especially when writers like T.A. Pratt are given the chance to shine. Winner of the 2007 Hugo Award for the short story “Impossible Dreams”, Tim Pratt left a positive impression on me with his novel “Blood Engines” (Reviewed HERE) with its rewarding blend of wacky characters, comedy, supernatural action, and imagination. Granted, I had a few issues with the writing, but overall I really enjoyed the book and was looking forward to the sequel…

Where “Blood Engines” took place in San Francisco, “Poison Sleep” finds Marla Mason back in her element as the chief sorcerer of Felport—a made-up city in an alternate contemporary world where magic is real, but kept hidden from the eyes of ‘ordinaries’. Of course, with any position of power there are responsibilities and Marla’s plate is overflowing. Not only is there the usual in-house bickering that she has to contend with from rival sorcerers, but a patient has escaped from the Blackwing Institute for the criminally insane. At first Marla isn’t too worried, but when she gets a glimpse of Genevieve Kelly’s awesome reweaving abilities—being sucked into her dreamland, palaces appearing in the real world, creating a living nightmare who wants to usurp Genevieve’s power for his own and conquer the planet—she makes it her top priority. Unfortunately, as if that’s not difficult enough, there’s also a slow assassin out for Marla’s head and two new men in her life—Joshua Kindler who was hired to handle diplomatic matters and personal assistant Ted—one of which is a spy. Needless to say, things are looking pretty bad for Marla. Thankfully, the greater Marla’s problems are the more entertaining it is for readers as Tim delivers a story crackling with energetic pacing, witty sass, and a smorgasbord of wild magics like Marla’s double-edged cloak—one side heals the wearer, the other turns her into a ruthless killing machine—Cursing, probability-shifting, technomancy, Medusa’s blood which can birth new creatures, chaos magic, sympathetic magic, and a symbiotic green mold that does a pretty good impression of Venom from the Spider-Man comics ;) There’s also a little romance involving Marla & Joshua, but keeping in line with the rest of Tim’s work, this is not your typical romance as Kindler is a lovetalker—possesses a supernatural power that makes people fall in love with him—which brings up the interesting question: Is Marla in love with Joshua as an individual, or just his magic?

Regarding the characters, Marla is obviously the focus of the book like last time—and again shows how much of a bad-ass she is—but the third-person narrative is also split between the renegade slow assassin Zealand who is contracted to kill the chief sorcerer, and Nicolette, a chaos magician serving under the diviner Gregor who is one of Marla’s main rivals. Now if you read any urban fantasy you probably notice that most series are narrated via the first-person which offers a certain intimacy that I admit is appealing, but the alternating third-person POVs has its benefits too like offering greater insights into the motives of other characters, keeping readers in the thick of the action, and perhaps most importantly, surprising the reader :) Fortunately, Tim likes to keep readers on their toes, so there are some pretty interesting surprises that just wouldn’t be possible in a first-person POV. As far as the supporting players, I’m not sure if this bunch is as eccentric as the ones found in “Blood Engines” but Genevieve, Reave the king of nightmares, and Joshua Kindler do make a strong case. Other than that, it was nice to see more of Hamil, Marla’s consiglieri—chief advisor—as well as Felport’s other prominent occupants like the technomancer Langford, Viscarro, Ernesto, the Chamberlain, Granger, the Bay Witch, et cetera. One thing that surprised me though was how small a role Rondeau had in “Poison Sleep”. I know I found him a bit one-dimensional in “Blood Engines” but I have to admit, I missed his banter :)

Apart from the wildly imaginative story, the fun cast of characters and the improved writing—Tim just seemed to have a better grasp of what he was doing in this book—what I liked most about “Poison Sleep” is that the novel is almost completely self-contained. I mean sure, there are references to “Blood Engines” and the short story “Grander than the Sea” (from The Solaris Book of New Fantasy) that I was able to pick up on, but those are few and really have no bearing on what happens in the book. In fact, I’m pretty confident that the next volume in the series, “Dead Reign” (October 2008), will also be self-contained—with maybe a few overlapping threads—and that brings me to the heart of the matter about Tim Pratt’s Marla Mason novels. While the series obviously possesses certain similarities to other urban fantasy books currently out there, it’s the little differences—like the third-person narratives, the novels being self-contained, the strong supporting characters, the plot manipulations, the inventive magical concepts, et cetera—that really separates both “Blood Engines” and “Poison Sleep” from the competition. Now between the two, I personally thought that “Poison Sleep” was the stronger and more entertaining novel, but they are both terrific reads and if Tim can keep it up with the next couple of books, then the Marla Mason series will be one of the first that I recommend to readers wanting to discover great urban fantasy…


Mihai A. said...

I haven't got the chance to read much urban fantasy, but T.A. Pratt's works seem pretty interesting.

heather (errantdreams) said...

I remember the last time urban fantasy was in vogue... when I was a teen. It was mostly about elves in fast cars, private eyes, and music at the time though; it sounds like the second time around it's aimed at adults as well as teens. Maybe the result of those folks who read it as teens growing up and becoming the next generation of writers.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like something I should be looking into.

Thanks for the info and links to the other reviews.

Kimberly Swan said...

Does sound like one I should have on my wish list. Great review! :)

Robert said...

Mihai, I'm not sure where the best place to start is if you haven't read very much urban fantasy, but T.A. Pratt is definitely one of the authors I would recommend :)

Heather, you make a pretty interesting observation. Would make for a great interview question!

Matt you're more than welcome and thanks for stopping by and commenting :)

Kimberly, thanks! Would be interesting to see what you think of Tim's books :)

Harry Markov said...

Oh this definitely is one of the most interesting sounding books I have yet to read. I would die to get a copy of that. definitely checked this one at my TBR list. Brilliant review as usual!

Robert said...

Hope you get a chance to read it. The book is a lot of fun :)


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