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.