Published by BantamSpectra
Marla Mason’s adventures continue in Poison Sleep, T.A. Pratt’s immediate follow-up to Blood Engines. Back in her home town of Felport, we find Marla just about where Pratt left her in the previous volume. Here, Marla is asked by the Blackwing Institute (a hospital for mentally unbalanced sorcerers and wizards) to help with one of their patients – a woman named Genevieve whose power allows her to manipulate reality – blend in Victorian streets and buildings into downtown Felport, allow monsters to run through the streets – fun stuff. Since she experienced a brutal rape 15 years prior to the events of the novel, Genevieve has been a patient of Blackwing because her powers have gone out of control. When Marla goes to lend a hand with the sorcerer, it turns out that Genevieve escaped Blackwing, allowing the girl’s powers of reality manipulation to go unchecked and threaten Felport. As Chief Sorcerer of Felport, Marla simply cannot allow this to happen.
There we have the events that get the book going, but how does Poison Sleep differ and improve on an already successful novel? Well, Pratt gets into more details about Felport. Heard about only in conversations in the pervious novel, all of the action of Poison Sleep takes place here, except for those little Genevieve-inspired jaunts outside of reality. Not only is Genevieve distorting reality by blending the real world with the dream world, but she’s brought along her own personal boogeyman and inadvertently set him up as King of Nightmares – who is basically an avatar of her rapist. Also added to the mix are a couple of new supporting characters for Marla: the charismatic Joshua, a Lovetalker who can charm anybody because of his magically enhanced charisma and Ted, a homeless man Marla randomly selects to be her much-needed personal assistant.
This plot sets up quite a few interesting scenarios for Marla. For example, Marla is one who always wishes to be in control, she feels it is her duty to be in control at all times as Chief Sorcerer or Felport. Well, when Joshua strolls in and charms her, sexual tension builds and allows for some rare moments of weakness for Marla. Conversely in Marla’s scenes with Ted, especially as his past and reasons for being homeless are revealed, some tender, yet pragmatic moments show that Marla isn’t the heartless bitch many of her detractors and contemporaries in Felport would think her to be.
With the story centering in Felport, Marla’s connections and the magical underbelly of her town play out very well as the stage of the novel. Readers from the first novel will be familiar with Marla, which allows Pratt to devote the right amount of time and space in Poison Sleep to developing Felport. The state where Felport is located has yet to be revealed (which I found to reminiscent of the Springfield in The Simpsons), but it is on the east coast. The dream world Genevieve creates as she warps reality seems right out of a gaslight novel; the scenes when Marla visits that world are pretty evocative.
Throughout the novel, Pratt peppers in a lot of geek/speculative fiction/comic book references that act as Easter Eggs to longtime fans of the genre. With a headstrong protagonist, great genre sensibilities, and a story that is told briskly and very well, Pratt’s Poison Sleep is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining novel. It works well enough on its own, but of course much better after having read Blood Engines. Fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Liz Williams’ Detective Inspector Chen novels, and early Anita Blake novels will likely enjoy the Marla Mason novels. Pratt has more Marla Mason novels in the pipeline, which is a very good thing – Dead Reign due in October and another due in the Spring of 2009.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford