Title: Blood Engines
Author: T.A. Pratt
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Marla Mason series
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Meet Marla Mason–smart, saucy, slightly wicked witch of the East Coast.…
Sorcerer Marla Mason, small-time guardian of the city of Felport, has a big problem. A rival is preparing a powerful spell that could end Marla’s life–and, even worse, wreck her city. Marla’s only chance of survival is to boost her powers with the Cornerstone, a magical artifact hidden somewhere in San Francisco. But when she arrives there, Marla finds that the quest isn’t going to be quite as cut-and-dried as she expected…and that some of the people she needs to talk to are dead. It seems that San Francisco’s top sorcerers are having troubles of their own–a mysterious assailant has the city’s magical community in a panic, and the local talent is being (gruesomely) picked off one by one.
With her partner-in-crime, Rondeau, Marla is soon racing against time through San Francisco’s alien streets, dodging poisonous frogs, murderous hummingbirds, cannibals, and a nasty vibe from the local witchery, who suspect that Marla herself may be behind the recent murders. And if Marla doesn’t figure out who is killing the city’s finest in time, she’ll be in danger of becoming a magical statistic herself.…
Why did I read this book: The cover looked pretty! Seriously, I picked it up on impulse in the bookstore. Maybe not the safest route to go…
Blood Engines is the first book in an Urban Fantasy series, written in the third person point of view, but mostly filtered through the thoughts of the heroine, Marla Mason. Marla is a badass witch/sorceress and is pretty high on the power totem pole as she is the Master of her city, Felport (on the East Coast, an industrial city of some sort). She’s an older sorcerer (read, not some pretty little 20-something, though the cover seems to suggest otherwise), and has seen it all, apparently. She travels to the city of San Francisco with her trusty sidekick/lackey, Rondeau, because her position of power is being threatened by another sorceress who has whipped up a nasty spell that will kill Marla, unless she has the Cornerstone. Apparently one of Marla’s friends in San Fran is the protector of the magical artifact, and Marla plans on taking it or using it or whatever. But, things are never that easy–she gets to San Fransisco, bitching about how the alleys don’t stink enough (wtf?) and how Chinatown isn’t cool because of its historical origins as a Chinese slave ghetto (because, of course the east coast has no history of enslaving or underpaying/mistreating immigrants at all), and she finds out that her old friend is dead (which shouldn’t be possible as he was a very powerful, very old sorcerer). Manner of death? Poison golden frogs. So. Marla needs to track down that pesky Cornerstone, but to do so she needs to investigate her friend’s death and enlist some other aid. Thus, she turns to the local big cheese sorcerer…and this is promptly where I gave up on the book.
This marks my first DNF of the year–and the first ever DNF on The Book Smugglers. (Hopefully there won’t be too many of these)
Why did I put down the book, you ask?
In a word, Marla is mean. Not in a cutesy bitchy mouthing off way, but just as a true part of her personality. Marla is a mean-spirited bitch. I don’t even think “bitch” is the right term for her–she is written in an almost ‘genderless’ way; change her first name from Marla to Marlon and the character would read exactly the same. Which is fine, I just really could not get into her character at all. From the opening pages of the book, Marla is bitching about how San Francisco’s weather is too mild, the alleyways don’t stink enough, the people are all so safe and unafraid to walk in dark places, and how her home city of Felport is ZOMGTHEBEST with its piss-drenched buildings and sewer stench. Oooookay. I guess this is supposed to be some interesting starting point for character development, but basically a chapter into the story I had a pretty significant headache.
Then, there is the way Marla interacts with other characters. She’s snarly and abrasive, which is understandable when people try to jerk her around (for example the Chinese sorcerer and his apprentice at the beginning of the book). But even with her own sidekick, Rondeau, Marla’s kind of a jerk. Rondeau, who is a quirky, interesting character, takes her cutting remarks and constant whining in stride and seems intent on getting Marla to come out of her nasty little shell. Rondeau is actually a sort of spirit, that had taken over the body of a young boy many years ago, and has since grown into a charming thief who does Marla’s dirty work (even though, on a power binge years back Marla ripped off Rondeau’s jawbone and kept it as an oracle). While Rondeau tells Marla about some of the key San Francisco sights, Marla is too busy telling Rondeau that he’s there to be her backup and in the same breath revealing that had their plane crashed, she would have let him fall to his own death. Nice. She didn’t even let him get the window seat on his first flight ever.
The overall mystery plot felt very promising–I liked the involvement of South American deities, poison frogs and hummingbirds, and a refreshing shift from the usual European mythological creatures/gods to a more Mesoamerican flavor. Buuuut…as everything is filtered through Marla’s point of view, I just couldn’t get into it.
While I was slogging through the first couple of chapters, I set a limit for myself–the breaking point was at 100 pages. And wouldn’t you know it, right around that point Marla and Rondeau go to a naughty S&M sex club to find a local master sorcerer, talk to a girl with pierced nipples…and Marla realizes that the local head wiz must be, as she puts it, a “pornomancer”. You know, there are necromancers, pyromancers…well, in Blood Ties there’s a pornomancer (that is, he gets his power from sex). At this point, I had just about had enough.
The thing is, this book DOES have potential. I liked the plot seeds, and to be fair, I probably wouldn’t mind pornomaners *snicker* and an abrasive main character so much had the writing been more engaging, or if there was some zing to Marla’s flat-out meanness. But, alas, Marla was a ‘mean’ of the worst brand: Mean without a sense of humor. Bah humbug.
Anyways–for all the aforementioned reasons, I have no desire to continue this book, and put it down as a DNF.
AND this marks our first ever winner of…. *drumroll*
The Dunder Mifflin Wasted Paper Award!
Now this being said, if anyone has read Blood Engines and enjoyed it, or wants to make a case for it, please step up and convince me to continue reading it! I felt that the plot had potential, and if Marla becomes less abrasive, or the mystery gets *really* good, then let me know if it’s worth picking up again!
Notable Quotes/Parts: I knew I might be in for some trouble at the beginning of the book. I mentioned a lack of ‘zing’ for the character of Marla, and just some strange writing choices above…here’s an example of what bugged me:
Marla ran her hand through her short hair, bits of scalp flaking away. She’d never had dandruff in her twenties. Getting older had its advantages, but dandruff wasn’t one of them.
Eeeeewww. Ok I have nothing against dandruff. It’s a normal, human condition. You wanna write about dandruff or incorporate it into a story, that’s fine. It’s just this weird passage (on page 4, no less!) doesn’t really DO anything for me character or story-wise. Had Marla made some joke about the dandruff, some self-deprecating comment about it, some witty quip, it would have been fine. But this is like saying, “Marla picked her uncomfortable wedgie,” and then immediately moving on with the story. Mmm. I dunno. Not exactly my thing.
Additional Thoughts: I picked this book up at random, based on the pretty cover. I think part of the reason is that this cover reminds me of some of my favorite books ever, Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series.
And, to be fair, book 2 of the Marla Mason books has a really great cover too. It’s a shame; I really wish I could have gotten into this one.
Rating: Did Not Finish
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