Published by BantamSpectra
The Modern Day Sorcerer is clearly one of the hottest subsets of speculative fiction these days, with varying degrees of fantastical elements and creatures as protagonists. From Psychic Detectives to Werewolves to Wizards for Hire to finally (but not least) to T.A. Pratt’s Marla Mason. Marla is the chief sorcerer of Felport, a town which barely makes an appearance in Blood Engines, which is an interesting trick, but also allows Pratt to focus on Marla in a setting that many may find familiar – San Francisco. Marla’s role as guardian sorcerer has elements of the mafia don (or donna in Marla’s case) thrown in for good measure. Pratt makes this seemingly strange combination work for Marla and the role she holds.
In Blood Engines, Marla is in San Francisco with her assistant Rondeau searching for a magical object that will ideally save her life. One of her rivals, in Felport, Susan, is trying to destroy her and take over Marla’s spot as guardian sorcerer. This magic item, a Cornerstone, is not easy to find and as Marla continues to probe the magical population about its location, sorcerers begin to die. What makes Marla’s meetings with each of these sorcerers interesting is that each is specializes in a different flavor of sorcery. One is a pornnomancer, who derives his magic power from sex; one is a technomancer who derives his power from technology and posits that the entire world is a computer simulation, a copy of what civilization was like in the past; while another sorcerer derives her powers from the dead – a necromancer. This worked really well to show the level of depth in Pratt’s magical world.
The plot is essentially straight-forward – Marla is questing for an object of great power. Of course the plot is deeper than that and it turns out to be a much more difficult task to accomplish than Marla would have otherwise hoped. What makes the book work so well is Marla herself, as well as her supporting characters, like Rondeau and the former actor now seer who goes by the moniker “B.” The other sorcerers provide insight into the world of magic and Marla’s views on the varying branches. Pratt does a great job of revealing her through other characters as well as Marla’s actions. During her interactions with the pornomancer, the first potential ally she encounters, Marla’s cock-sure attitude comes through very strongly and does not abate as she intermingles with the remainder of San Francisco’s magical society. With each encounter, the depth of magical history in San Francisco, and Marla’s world as a whole, is revealed as a key aspect of the story.
I noted in my review of Pratt’s short story from the Solaris Book of New Fantasy that there were Lovecraftian overtones to that particular story. Those overtones become even more evident in Blood Engines, informing Marla’s world of its deep otherworldly nature of ancient gods and great beasts associated with water. Ancient myths from seemingly dead civilizations, and the aforementioned branches of magic might seem like a lot of magic to pack into just one book. Pratt makes it work convincingly well thought out and for lack of a better word, systematic. What all of this magical background does, in a relatively short span of just over 300 pages, is give Pratt more than enough room to tell stories over the course of multiple books. This is a good thing since this subset of the genre is doing so well, and even better because Pratt is a terrific storyteller. With a fantastic final third of the novel (and some really fun stuff before), I highly recommend Blood Engines I’m glad I don’t have to wait for the next novel, Poison Sleep, since I have it now.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford