One of the things I often do as I'm reading a novel or short story is keep track of words whose definitions I do not know or that I find interesting. Either way, these interesting words are ones I feel might be of use in my own writing. That, and it's good to expand one's vocabulary every once in a while.
Read my review of Blood Engines.
consigliere: An adviser or counselor, especially to a capo or leader of an organized crime syndicate.
self-aggrandizement: an act undertaken to increase your own power and influence or to draw attention to your own importance
sarong: a loose skirt consisting of brightly colored fabric wrapped around the body; worn by both women and men in the South Pacific
diurnal: having a daily cycle or occurring every day; belonging to or active during the day
pagoda: a tall religious building in Asia with many levels, each of which has a curved roof
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Blood Engines is the first of the Marla Mason urban fantasy novels by author Tim Pratt. While urban fantasy isn't my usual thing, I'd previously read The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl and liked it, though what got me to try Blood Engines was the fact that Pratt is serializing a new Mason novel called Broken Mirrors. I wanted to support that effort, but since I wasn't familiar with the main character or her exploits I thought I'd start with the first book and see how I liked it.
While I can't say I didn't enjoy the book, there were parts I could have done without, and what really bothered me the most is that for all Mason's purported and often spoken of ability to kick butt, she never really does.
Blood Engines begins in San Francisco (Pratt makes his home in Oakland, just on the other side of the bay; I grew up in the Bay Area, so I'm more than a little familiar with the lay of the land) where Marla Mason has come in search of a Cornerstone, an ancient magical device whose power is to enhance and make permanent the effects of any spell. Mason hopes to work some magic to defeat a rival back in her own city of Felport. A wrench is thrown into her plans when the contact she'd come to connect with, and who also knew the location of the Cornerstone, is murdered. Feeling obligated to seek out the murderer, and because that path also intersects with her own immediate goal, Mason sets out to bring the perpetrator to her sort of justice.
Pratt is a deft storyteller. The writing is crisp and doesn't waste the reader's time with loads of info dumps. There are, however, parts that go off on tangents. The worst of them is a long scene where Mason is looking for her first lead concerning the Cornerstone's whereabouts which leads her into the den of a "pornomancer", a sorcerer whose power stems from the sexual energy around him. What ensues is an elaborate, drawn out orgy scene the like of which I'd never been invited to while living in San Francisco. ;-)
That aside, I had a similar issue with this book that I had with The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl: the main character simply doesn't do enough. Pratt goes to great length to tell us how much of a bad ass Mason is, yet we never see that reflected in the unfolding story. There is plenty of magic, though it is not always cast by Mason. In fact, little of it is. In the final scene, while Mason has set up the pieces to confront one another, she doesn't take part in it herself.
I'm on the fence if I'll pick up the next book after Blood Engines. There’s plenty of more books in the series, so maybe the author finds his stride and Marla as well. Right now, many other books to get to, so this series goes to the backburner.
Tim Pratt, whose book The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl I reviewed some time ago, posed this question on his blog:
Should I Write the Next Marla Mason Novel?
Marla Mason is Pratt's urban sorcerer character who has appeared in four traditionally published novels to date: Blood Engines, Poison Sleep, Dead Reign, and Spell Games. Also, Marla Mason is the main character in Bone Shop, a prequel to the other novels which Pratt serialized and gave away for free (donations accepted, of course) on his web site.
When Pratt originally posed that question on his blog and Twitter, I scoffed. Stephen King had tried it and failed. Tim and I engaged in a brief conversation where he pointed out the difference in scale (King has to make a whole lot more for it to be worth his time) and the fact that King tried it a decade ago. We both agreed that a lot of things can change in 10 years. Our conversation closed with the following comments from Tim:
Turns out his publisher is not interested in any more Marla Mason novels. Pratt has a great affinity for the character, though, and so on the heels of Bone Shop, Pratt's first serialized Marla Mason novel, he's doing it again, this time with Broken Mirrors.
Broken Mirrors will appear online one chapter at a time and run for "20-25 weeks". The first chapter will go up March 8.
While you can download the chapters for free, donations are, of course, accepted. In exchange for your contribution, Pratt has a tiered reward system. The more you donate, the more you get (beyond the author's undying appreciation, of course).
While I had read the before-mentioned The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, I had no experience with his Marla Mason novels prior to reading about his plans for Broken Mirrors. Intrigued by the serialization idea, I went out and bought the first Mason novel, Blood Engines (actually, I bought it through my Kindle, so I didn't really go anywhere). So far, so good, and I'm looking forward to watching Broken Mirrors unfold.
You can subscribe to the upcoming chapters via the RSS feed on the Broken Mirrors web site.
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A micro-book review, like micro-blogging, is a review containing as few words as possible. In the spirit of Twitter, mine will be 140 characters or less (not including this intro).
Pratt's bizarre Old West meets comic heroine, with the real world at stake. Entertaining, but I wanted more Rangergirl, less Marzi.