Blood Engines by T. A. Pratt

Blood Engines (Marla Mason, Book 1)From Amazon:

"Meet Marla Mason–smart, saucy, slightly wicked witch of the East Coast.…

Sorcerer Marla Mason, small-time guardian of the city of Felport, has a big problem. A rival is preparing a powerful spell that could end Marla’s life–and, even worse, wreck her city. Marla’s only chance of survival is to boost her powers with the Cornerstone, a magical artifact hidden somewhere in San Francisco. But when she arrives there, Marla finds that the quest isn’t going to be quite as cut-and-dried as she expected…and that some of the people she needs to talk to are dead. It seems that San Francisco’s top sorcerers are having troubles of their own–a mysterious assailant has the city’s magical community in a panic, and the local talent is being (gruesomely) picked off one by one.

With her partner-in-crime, Rondeau, Marla is soon racing against time through San Francisco’s alien streets, dodging poisonous frogs, murderous hummingbirds, cannibals, and a nasty vibe from the local witchery, who suspect that Marla herself may be behind the recent murders. And if Marla doesn’t figure out who is killing the city’s finest in time, she’ll be in danger of becoming a magical statistic herself.…"

Excerpt at Author's website.

Let's just get this out of the way, Marla is one bitchy but boss heroine.   The whole book is filled with a ton of witches and wizards who are scary, strange, and unique.  I've certainly never come across a witch who gathers her magic by using a train going in an endless loop.  (Loved that.)  More than most books called urban fantasy, this felt both urban and strange and weird, but in a good way.  Even magical archetypes that appear in other series come across a little better in this book (the witch who can see multiple timelines, the prophet/oracle, and the evil Chinese mage).  Now, to damn with faint praise, saying all this about how I loved aspects of this book, I simply liked this book.

Let's get the bad out of the way so I can clear my review's palette with the good stuff.  It was certainly memorable, but while certain scenes and characters are simply stand-out, other scenes or characters left me uninterested and unmotivated to continue reading the series.  I felt like the characters I was most interested in wouldn't even be in the second book, which left me with a "why bother" feeling.  Also, Marla is almost needlessly bitchy.  She is the kind of bitchy that left me unable to sympathize and I say this as a person who is needlessly bitchy all the damned time.  She seems to be bitchy almost to the point of stupidity.  While this can be interesting, it also makes her seem dumb at times which is hard to find engaging.

Felport, the city which matters the most to Marla, is not in this book at all.  We're left with San Francisco, which makes me reluctant to move back to Felport in the second book.  It seems an odd choice to start the series away from this city.

Now that this is out of the way, let's talk about what I like.  The snake god, the possible witch (extra hugs and kisses to this minor character), the bevy of San Fran leading wizards, the completely strange but interesting magic of the villain, Bradley.  If the second book had followed Bradley instead of Marla, I'd have been there in a heartbeat.  There is a lot of world-building and characterization to love. 

The reason I'm tempted to pick up more books from Tim Pratt is that I'm sure he must be a very imaginative man with a great ability to paint both beautiful and hideous worlds and people with words.  If his other books have stronger stories, I think they have the potential to be some of my favorites.

Verdict: 6.  I read it about a month ago and I still remember all the plot details and I still feel good about a lot of it, but not enough to make me want to rush to get the second book in the series.  Both of those things say something and they balance out to a six.  It's like the opposite of 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'.  Here the sum of its parts is much higher than the whole of story of this book.

Thoughts:  I guessed early into the novel that this was written by a male as opposed to the large string of urban fantasy written by females.  The feel was just different.  In one way, I kind of liked that (less silly romance) but in another way (still lots of silly sex) it was kind of annoying.  Doesn't anyone do urban fantasy stuff without excessive romance or sex?

Also, Tim Pratt has both his own website and a website devoted to stories of Marla which includes an excerpt from Blood Engines..  Apparently the fifth book is reader funded.  Was he unable to publish it or did he decide to self-publish it?


  1. Hi there,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Bradley Bowman appears in the third book, and has large parts to play in books four and five. (I love him too.)

    To clarify, I never pretended to be a woman -- the publisher wanted a "gender neutral" pseudonym because there's a perception that some readers won't buy a book with a female main character if it's obvious a man wrote it. (I dunno if that's true, but that's what they think.)

    Regarding your final question, my series was dropped by the publisher as part of the Great Collapse of Publishing in 2008 -- my editor was laid off, and the imprint that published the series was reorganized out of existence, and I was a casualty of that whole mess. Many of my readers were not happy, as book four ended on something of a cliffhanger, so I serialized the fifth book based on reader donations.

    I agree that having the first novel set somewhere other than Felport was a weird choice. Here's why: I didn't plan a series. I just wrote a book about a character I liked, who'd appeared in some of my short stories. Then the publisher said, "We love it -- will you write us three more books about her?" It seemed impolite to say no. :) But if I'd planned it as a series, yeah, I wouldn't have started with an away game.

  2. Tim, thank you kindly for responding seriously to my nearly stream-of-consciousness review.

    I always thought it was probably the publisher who suggested the pseudonym for exactly the reasons you stated. (What a change from a hundred years or so ago, eh?!) This is why it's under thoughts rather than in the review. I don't count this against the book, just interesting to me, personally.

    Since I often adjust a novel's score after giving it a month or two of thought, I've been considering more and more of bumping this review number up to a seven because of the fact that the book caused me to lecture (bore) my husband for twenty minutes on how interesting the magic of the book was and how great the world-building was. I think I described the Alcatraz/Possible Witch scene as clearly as I remembered it which was pretty DAMNED clearly. ("And then they had to turn in a circle three times and walk through the WALL which wasn't there! They were in a different dimension!" "And then she KNEW which universe they were in, or mostly did, based on questions she asked! Let me tell you the questions and the answers!")

    Like I said, I think while this novel wasn't to my taste one hundred percent, I find myself excited to try another of your non-Marla books.

    PS. Seriously, a magician who uses a train circling in a loop as a source of magic is awesome.