Sorcerer Marla Manson is in San Francisco with her companion Rondeau, looking for a magical artefact that could save her life. Back in her hometown of Felport, a rival for her position as guardian of the city, is preparing a spell that will destroy her. Unless she can get her hands on the Cornerstone. Unfortunately the sorcerer who had the artefact has just been murdered. He's only the first victim, and it soon becomes clear that if Marla wants to save herself, she's going to have to save San Francisco and the rest of the world first.
This is a problematic book for me to review. On the one hand it has clever and original ideas, beautiful imagery and witty dialogue. However, it also has some weak plotting, an incredibly heavy-handed beginning and a heroine who isn't always the most likeable or interesting character in the story. Although I fully intend to carry on reading the series I'm not sure whether I'd recommend it. It's one you're either going to love or hate.
First the stuff I had problems with.
The beginning is rather like being hit over the head with a mallet. It's very 'tell the reader what's going on by having two characters talk about a situation they're already aware of'.
Marla - Why are we in San Francisco again?
Rondeau - Well we're in San Francisco because of stuff you already know but the reader doesn't, so I'm going to repeat it for their benefit.
This info-dumpy style pops up throughout the story. Though it does become less intrusive.
Whilst the actual adventuring in San Francisco I loved. I found the whole reason for being there - chasing a MacGuffin - to be very weak. Causing me at several points in the story (whenever Marla mentioned the terrible spell her rival, Susan, was attempting to cast) to be on Susan's side, wishing she would just cast the damn spell already. Additionally the timing for this terrible spell felt contrived. Marla needed a reason to be in San Francisco and that was it.
I think for some people Marla as a character would be both a plus and a minus. Initially she appears completely amoral (one rule for her, a different rule for everybody else), but she has a strong sense of integrity not readily apparent. Indeed it's only as we come towards the end of the story that you appreciate she does have more depth than it first appears.
Now for what I loved about this book.
It had some of the most original stuff I've read recently in urban fantasy. People being killed by golden frogs and hummingbirds. Seers talking to sewer grates and trash cans to confirm their visions. Stealing a child's jawbone to use as an oracle in a jar. The train that doesn't go anywhere. The Possible Witch - possibly (LOL) my favourite scene in the book, very cleverly written. You have to concentrate on what TPW is saying because she experiences so many possibilities at once. A Giant Frog eating San Francisco. And loads more.
T.A.Pratt also has a way of painting a picture with words, so you can see the golden frogs hopping about the train station, or an impenetrable wall of hummingbirds.
The character of Bradley is fascinating. Initially dismissed by Marla as not having enough power for her to be interested in. He keeps crossing paths with her, kind of intentionally unintentionally. He inadvertently ends up at a sex party she's attending. Circumstances have granted him power, but he uses it in quite a convoluted way, in order to be able to cope with what he can do. Through him we get a completely different view of this world of magic and power, and of Marla.
Finally the dialogue, especially in the second half of the book is really well written.
"...we'll find the Parable Witch, or whatever her name is."
"If it's even a her. Or, rather, if it even appears to be a her. Because, honestly, it's going to be an 'it'."
Blood Engines starts off with a heavy hand, but the author's touch becomes lighter as you read through the story and are pulled into the world. Although at the end I find myself hoping a future book will follow B and Cole (a story I would be chomping at the bit for), I'm happy to see where Marla's arrogance and attitude will take her next.
Poison Sleep - Bk2 - Mar 2008