Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Blood Engines by Tim Pratt

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.

The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory is book one of The Obsidian Trilogy. It is followed by To Light a Candle and When Darkness Falls.

This first book in the trilogy starts out very promising. Unfortunately, the initial plot which I found quite riveting begins to slow and finally fall flat for me as I gave up reading about halfway through.

Kellen Tavadon, son of the most powerful mage in the Golden City, wants more out of life than the controlled, sanitized life given to him by his father and the other ruling mages of the City. He finds more than he bargained for when he happens upon the three books of Wild Magic.

Wild Magic differs from the traditional magic performed by the City's mages in that it is easier, requires less preparation, is in some ways more powerful, but ultimately was banned long ago by the mages of the Golden City because it exacts a price that is sometimes too high to pay. Kellen soon learns there is even more to it than that when he is discovered practicing this forbidden magic and banished from the City and its utopian way of life. This is all well and fine with Kellen. Others have been expelled from the city and, he imagines, gone on to lead a new, independent existence free from the stifling rules of the mages. He comes to find out, though, that of those previously banished, none still live, for the mages set an Outlaw Hunt in pursuit of him: a pack of stone golem hounds whose only purpose is to kill those expelled from the City.

This is a great premise and the story does well up until the point where Kellen settles into a life free from his father's influence. He begins to delve further into Wild Magic, albeit slowly, and discovers there is an entire world of fascinating people living outside the borders of the City. The problem is that the story settles far too much into the mundane. Meeting new neighbors, attending fairs, chopping wood, observing Kellen's sister, who is a healer, going about her daily routine. In a way, I found the manner in which Kellen settles in with his sister to be a bit… unwholesome; I think the sister character's part would have been better served as a non-blood relation.

I read some reviews on the second book in the series, To Light A Candle. Those reviews claim the second book picks up the pace. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the end of The Outstretched Shadow, so I won't be getting to see that for myself.

Eleganta by Denny Swartzlander

Eleganta by Denny Swartzlander is my February and first Kindle Pick of the Month. In a way, this is an experiment. First time writers publishing in the Kindle store either (1) couldn't get their novel published by a traditional publisher or (2) didn't submit to a traditional publisher. Either way, the traditional publishing route, which some people feel is pretty important to boosting quality, has been circumvented.

So, the experiment is to see if self-published eBooks meet the same quality standard as traditional books.

Eleganta left me undecided.

The titular character, a garden fairy, has just given birth to a baby, an occurrence not seen in over a decade. It is quickly decided that the baby must be brought to the fairy queen for protection, for an invading army of trolls—and one troll general in particular—is hell-bent on capturing her. Seems that the trolls grow sick and die when ingesting the current crop of fairies, so they're consumed (no pun intended) with creating a line of fairies not toxic to them. For reasons which remain unclear to me, Eleganta's baby is the key to this source.

So begins a journey for Eleganta, her daughter, and a warrior fairy charged with protecting them that should by all accounts be one charged with suspense and danger. There's plenty of danger (though I never really felt anyone was going to suffer from it) but little suspense. Eleganta and company go from one destination to another, sometimes quickly, sometimes stopping to frolic in the forest, so to speak, all the while chased by a pair of monstrous hound-like creatures. That in itself is a problem: the trolls want the baby alive, so why send a couple of creatures who will probably do nothing less than eat it if they ever capture it?

Another point of contention I couldn't get past: fairies fly, yet their villages are walled. Perhaps this is because they've been fighting the army of trolls for some time, so they've simply built their defenses up. But, still, I had imagined a different sort of lifestyle for fairy-kind, one that did not mirror our own so much.

In terms of writing, Eleganta varies from above average to below average. Character descriptions sometimes are info dumps, with too much, too soon and descriptions that are too detailed. I prefer to find out the nuances of a character as the story unfolds rather than having information thrown at me straight off. There are parts of Eleganta that are on par with anything you'd read elsewhere. Unfortunately, there are also other sections I felt could have used a bit more polish.

The storyline is good enough, though pacing was not the best and the characters are all-too-familiar or just flat. There was no one character I really connected with nor any characters I genuinely wanted to see succeed.

Perhaps the most telling sign of all: I couldn't finish Eleganta. I made it halfway. Knowing when to stop reading isn't always easy. In this case, I was having a hard time getting enthused about picking up my Kindle and diving into the story. If that isn't a sign tell me what to do, I don't know what is.

While Eleganta has thus far racked up nine five star reviews on Amazon, I didn't feel it quite met that level. I plan to give it three stars when I post my review there shortly.

The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance

The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance is part of the Tales of the Dying Earth omnibus. Other novels in the compilation include The Dying Earth, Cugel's Saga, and Rhialto the Marvellous.

Jack Vance is one of the most prolific and popular science fiction and fantasy writers of our time. Many of his works are considered classics. The individual novels found in the Tales of the Dying Earth are certainly amongst them.

This second Tales novel is just that: unlike The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld is not a collection of short stories but a full-length novel. Here we have the character Cugel, who is likeable enough throughout most of the story, though I did find some of his qualities unsavory if not reprehensible at times. Still, he is our hero, so to speak, and it is his adventures we follow as the story progresses.

We begin with Cugel trying to sell some goods. Things are not going well, though, and at the urging of a fellow merchant, Cugel gets it in his head to go steal from Iucounu the Laughing Magician if only to acquire some magical items which he can then sell for profit. Cugel is caught in the act and, as penance, the Laughing Magician sends Cugel on a quest halfway round the world to bring back a favored item. Keeping Cugel in line is a parasite called Firx, who wraps himself about Cugel's liver and promises certain death if Cugel strays from his appointed task. Thus begins a series of odd and sometimes death-harrowing adventures as Cugel attempts to locate the wizard's prized item and return home, all the while keeping Firx content that he is in fact doing all he can to fulfill said quest.

Trouble arises when Cugel sees an opportunity for personal gain, which is at almost every turn, for Cugel is concerned with himself above all other things. He steals, he cheats, he lies, he even rapes a woman at one point in the story (though, to be fair, they are married and she does agree, but only after Cugel's extreme urging). Still, Cugel is likeable if only because nothing ever seems to go his way. He's the quintessential down-on-his-luck character who, after being beaten down so many times, we just want to see succeed even just once.

The Eyes of the Overworld is, of course, set in Vance's Dying Earth world, so far in our future that the Sun is nearing the end of its life and technology is so advanced (and its operation forgotten, in most cases) that it is more magic than science. Those who do know its operation are few and far between, and are actually called sorcerers and wizards rather than technologists, engineers, or scientists.

Vance's writing style is from another era; the book was originally published in 1966. The matter-of-fact narration is easy to follow, though, and the adventures Cugel finds himself on are engaging. The Eyes of the Overworld is a short novel, standing in at about 150 pages, and overall I found it a quick read. If I rated the books I review, I'd give it 3 stars out of 5.

Book Reviews: The Complete List

This is an always updated list of all the book reviews I have written, organized by author (alphabetized by last name) and title for ease-of-access. Alternatively, you can browse the content of all of my book reviews.

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Joe Abercrombie

John Joseph Adams (editor)

Peter V. Brett

Tobias Buckell

Lois McMaster Bujold

S.C. Butler

Orson Scott Card

Glen Cook

James Clemens

David Drake

Dave Duncan

Randall Garrett

Christopher Gravett

Paula Guran (editor)

Robin Hobb

Washington Irving

Richard Kadrey

Paul Kearney

Paul S. Kemp

Kay Kenyon

Stephen King

Joe Konrath

Ellen Kushner

Mercedes Lackey

Robin Laws

Jane Lindskold

James Mallory

Paul Malmont

Graham McNeill

China Mieville

Tee Morris

Tim Pratt

Norman Partridge

Cherie Priest

Brandon Sanderson

John Scalzi

Karl Schroeder

Jon Sprunk

Denny Swartzlander

J.R.R. Tolkien

Harry Turtledove

Jack Vance

Jo Walton

Peter Watts

David Weber

Connie Willis

Robert Charles Wilson