Anthologies: The Way of the Wizard (2010), Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives (2011), Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron (2012)
Blood Engines (2007)
Nathan raved about Blood Engines a couple months ago, so I decided to move it higher in the list, based on his recommendation.
Marla Mason is guardian of Felport, but is off the ranch in San Francisco, searching for a Cornerstone–a magical artifact that will give her the power to fight off the sorcerer trying to take over her territory. Unfortunately for Marla, and her assistant of sorts Rondeau, things are never as easy as one could hope, and often worse than one can imagine.
Blood Engines is a supernatural fantasy that takes place in the world as we know it, where magic exists, but is hidden from regular humans. Marla is a moderately amoral magician whose interests are first and foremost her own. If she happens to do a good deed or two along the way, it happens only because the right thing was easy to do.
This ended up being my problem with the story. I found Marla annoying.
I liked Rondeau, who in many ways acted as Marla’s conscience, and I liked B, but Marla? Not so much. She wasn’t bad, she simply didn’t care about anything other than herself, and this is a trait I have a difficult time comprehending, and so makes for a character I have a difficult time relating to.
Which is too bad, because the writing was strong, the dialog was good, and the story was very very good. All the characters were well-developed and could be easily told apart in dialog. Although I have to admit that Rondeau reminded me in many ways of Bob the Skull in the Dresden Files books, only with an actual body.
I could have done without the tour of the sex party. Sure, it makes sense that there are sorcerers that would gain their power from sex, and would throw the type of party described there, but I could have done without three chapters of it. I’m not saying it was badly done–it wasn’t (i.e. it didn’t make me cringe) but I just didn’t need three chapters of it.
What is it, anyway, about supernatural fantasy that compels people to fill whole chapters with lots of boinking?
I was also unsure about the limits upon magical power, and how one develops certain strengths and levels of power. Essentially, I was unsure what the limit of Marla’s power were. She said she had them, but they were never completely clear from the context of the story.
So Blood Engines was good, but it certainly isn’t the best supernatural fantasy I’ve ever read. The story, however, was very good and the writing was very strong, so it might be worth checking out the sequel, though I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to look for it.
Poison Sleep (2008)
Nathan raved about the first Marla Mason book, Blood Engines. I thought the book was good, but nothing really drew me into the story. But Michael liked Blood Engines so I bought the second book, and decided to read it while I was on vacation.
Marla is called out to an emergency at the Blackwing Institute–a home/prison for insane sorcerers. One of the worst inmates there has attempted to escape, but by the time Marla arrives the threat has been contained, and the only concern is that Genevieve, a possible reweaver, has escaped from Blackwing. Genevieve, an empath and possibly a reweaver–was brutally attacked and has spent decades comatose. However something has awakened her, and no one is sure what she’ll do now she’s awake.
Additionally, she hires a new–and dangerous in a completely unexpected way–member of the team, and picks up a personal assistant.
I have to say that I enjoyed Poison Sleep much more than Blood Engines. I think the difference was that Marla was in here element here–Freeport is her home, and her actions made sense in light of the fact that she was protecting the city she was sworn to guard. She makes hard choices here, but instead of seeming sociopathic, those decisions make sense in light of her duty to guard the city.
I also liked the Marla was able to make those hard choices–and that she was willing to admit when she was wrong. It definitely added a complexity to her character that I don’t remember from the first book.
One thing bugged me however.
V fgvyy qba’g haqrefgnaq jul Tertbe jbhyq unir uverq gjb nffnffvaf. Lrnu, ur fnj Zneyn nf n guerng, ohg nf unccrarq, gur gjb raqrq hc trggvat va rnpu bguref jnl.
Other than that, I thought the story was strong, the characters were good, the pacing was nice, and I appreciated the extra complexity. In other words, I definitely preferred Poison Sleep to Blood Engines.
Dead Reign (2008)
When Marla stops the (not very sane) necromancer Ayers from animating a corpse, she sets into action a chain of events that will have her once again defending Felport from an invader, and learning more about the underworld than she ever wants to know.
Hmm… Hard to come up with a good synopsis of this book without giving away some of the fun twists and turns of the story, so we leave the brief and vague synopsis as is.
Marla has softened a bit over the series so far. Not in a bad way that makes her incapable of doing her job, but in a way that makes it clear she’s doing things because she believes strongly in and cares strongly for something–the city of Felport, where she is Chief Sorcerer. We can also see that beneath her (very) rough exterior, she does care for her friends, and does everything she can to keep them safe.
Once again, Rondeau was my favorite character in the story. Marla is strong and bitchy and self-sufficient to a great degree, but Rondeau is more than her sidekick. He’s complex and very interesting–especially as he’s a demonic parasite. Not that Marla isn’t complex, she’s just not as likable–although this is changing over the course of the series.
And that does change to a great degree over the course of this story. We learn a bit about Marla’s past–and what she went through to get where she is now. To me, this makes her far more sympathetic–and interesting–than she was in the previous two books.
You should easily be able to read Dead Reign without having read the previous two books in the series. In fact, given the fact I didn’t much care for Blood Engines, I might even recommend starting here, just because I find Marla far more likable in the following books.
Spell Games (2009)
One of my least favorite things in the world is when a book ends with a major story arc unresolved, where you are left hanging to wait for the next book in the series.
Guess what Tim Pratt did?
Did I mention how much I hate it when books end and leaving you hanging?
The most frustrating thing is that until the last two pages I was quite happy with Spell Games and thought it was one of the best books yet in the series. The story kept going in unexpected directions, and I liked the fact that there was great difficulty and some unhappiness. OK, I wasn’t sad, because this series doesn’t have that kind of hook in me, but things were rough and I like it when authors are willing to take chances. But, this was not to be.
SPOILERS (rot 13)
Jung znqr zr znq jnf V jnf irel rkpvgrq sbe jurer vg ybbxrq yvxr gur frevrf jnf tbvat. Zneyn naq Ebaqrnh jrer obgu tbvat gb unir gb qrny jvgu gurve thvyg bire O’f qrngu, naq frr vs gurl pbhyq yrnea gb yvir jvgu rnpu bgure nsgre rirelguvat gung unq unccrarq. Naq Ebaqrnh jnf npghnyyl tbvat gb unir gb yrnea ubj gb jbex zntvp naq or zber guna Zneyn’f fvqrxvpx naq snvgushy pbzcnavba.
Ohg ab. Abj gurl’er tbvat gb tb naq gel naq oevat O onpx, abg gung oevat O onpx vfa’g n jbegul pnhfr, ubjrire, vg frrzf irel haernyvfgvp, naq V’z sne yrff rkpvgrq nobhg jurer gung vf tbvat gb gnxr gur fgbel.
As we discovered at the end of the last book (I should have seen it coming I suppose), Marla’s long lost brother has appeared and wants to get to know his sister again. He’s still a grifter, and is in town to pull a grift, but while he is in town he wants to spend time with Marla. And Marla doesn’t know what to think.
Meanwhile, B has come back with Marla to be her new apprentice, so she’s sending him around to all the local sorcerers to see what they can teach him–apparently B has a lot more going for him than he had realized (having a narcoleptic instructor didn’t help.)
So although this was a good story and a nice addition to the series, I am extremely unhappy with the ending.
Rating: 6/10 (would have been higher if not for the last two pages.)
Bone Shop (2010)
This was originally published as a serial novel on Tim Pratt’s website after a financial crisis, but is now available as an eBook or a paper book.
It’s short, but if you’re read the Marla Mason stories, this is a fascinating look at how Marla became Marla.
Published by Tropism Press
I love anthologies. They give me an escape in bite size pieces that won’t keep me up past my bed time on a work night, and they also often a wonderful introduction to authors I have not read previously.
This anthology focuses upon wizards of all sorts, doing wizardly things, though not very many evil wizards.
“Mommy Issues of the Dead” by T.A. Pratt is a Marla Mason story, from when Marla was learning to be a better sorceror.
There were multiple stories I didn’t care for, but on the whole, I found it a good and enjoyable collection. After all, I don’t have to read the stories I don’t like.
Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives (2011) edited by Justin Gustainis
“Little Better than a Beast: A Marla Mason Story” by T. A. Pratt
“Dusted: A Cosa Nostradamus Story” by Laura Anne Gilman
“The Demon You Know… A Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom Story” by Julie Kenner
“The Spirit of the Thing: A Nightside Story” by Simon R. Green
“Holding the Line: A Jill Kismet Story” by Lilith Saintcrow
“Defining Shadows: A Detective Jessi Hardin Story” by Carrie Vaughn
“Deal Breaker: A Quincey Morris Story” by Justin Gustainis
“See Me: A Smoke and Shadows Story” by Tanya Huff
“Soul Stains: A Vampire Babylon Story” by Chris Marie Green
“Under the Hill and Far Away: A Black London Story” by Caitlin Kittredge
“An Ace in the Hole: A Sazi Story” by C. T. Adams & Cathy Clamp
“Hell Bound: A Hell on Earth Story” by Jackie Kessler
“Impossible Love: A Piers Knight Story” by C. J. Henderson
“Running Wild: An Outcast Season Story” by Rachel Caine
This was, as sometimes happens, a mix of stories I liked and didn’t like, though there wasn’t any particular story I thought was terrible. Just stories that were more or less to my personal taste. There were also several stories I had previously read.
“Little Better than a Beast: A Marla Mason Story” by T. A. Pratt is one I had not read, but I enjoy Marla Mason stories, so this was a fun one. Marla is warned only at the last minute that a monster is heading for her town–a monster from the past, as well as the first chief sorcerer of Felport (as we as an explanation as to how Felport got its name. I really liked how Marla dealt with the problems here.
All an all, an interesting anthology, and would I can easily recommend–especially if it’s still only $3.
Published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing
This is a lovely YA anthology, with some amazing stories by some of my favorite authors. I didn’t love all the stories, but none of them were bad. The theme is young witches coming of age, but the stories are far greater than that.
“The Carved Forest” by Tim Pratt did not head where I was expecting, but that’s okay, because I like where it went. Carlos needs to rescue his sister Maria from the town witch–only Maria doesn’t want to leave, and the witch doesn’t want her to go, so does she really need rescued?
Published by Random House