Book Reviews

Book Review: Blood Engines

Title: Blood Engines

Author: T.A. Pratt

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Marla Mason series

Summary: (from
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

Reading Next: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

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  • Katie(babs)
    June 17, 2008 at 5:12 am

    Eww genderless mean heroine! Sounds like my type of read. LOL
    I have 2 books I may post that were DNF for me. 🙁

  • kmont
    June 17, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Wow, and Kelly Armstrong and Kim Harrison give books one and two cover props.


    Never read Armstrong, but I heart Harrison in a major way and might have been interested in the series as a result.

    I agree about the humor aspect. Must have it if the main character is going to be cold, mean or snarky in any way. It would likely be a snarky sarcastic humor, but that’s fine with me, I prefer it in UF heroines actually. When you said this was 3rd POV though, I almost went right to Amazon to wish list it, as I’m looking for some UF 3rd POVs ATM.

    I thought this was great review though, considering you stopped 100 pgs in. Your reasons seemed like good ones to me. I’d be interested in differing opinions in the comments section here too.

    And really, what the heck IS up with a genderless main character? I can feel your frustration with this one.

  • Carolyn Jean
    June 17, 2008 at 6:24 am

    Thanks for the review! I see personality problems now and then with UF main characters, though this one seems to be quite extreme! But you know, meanness and snideness standing in for strength and coolness or something. I so need to be with a character.

  • Thea
    June 17, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Katie, aww 2 DNFs? Ick. I hate that, I always feel like I’m “giving up” and should push through, but sometimes enough is enough. Especially considering there’s hardly enough time to read books you really WANT to read to begin with!

    Kmont–yep, that’s the other reason that sold the book to me. I LOVE Kim Harrison. The Rachel Morgan books are my favorite UF series. And Kelly Armstrong ain’t no slouch either (although I’ve only read 2 of her Women of Otherworld books).

    So far as snarky heroines go, I can take it so long as I feel for the character. Early Anita Blake, I loved her to pieces (she had her roughness and smart mouth, but then she also collected stuffed penguins secretly). The 3rd person POV is definitely a cool change for the UF genre, but it still feels very 1st person–you are privvy to Marla’s thoughts almost all of the time.

    And on the ‘genderless’ thing…this is just my own perception of the character. I mean, I don’t necessarily want a heroine who talks about shoes or her pretty hair or whatever, but just the feeling I got from reading Marla gave me no distinction of WHO she really was, including a feel for gender.

    I’d say give it a try though, kmont–you never know. The amazon reviews for this one are majority very high! This heroine just didn’t work for me at all.

    On a side note, I think a large part of it was her constant whining about SF. I see that the author is actually living in SF though, so I’m guessing this is meant to be ironic? I don’t know, it just plain didn’t work for me. I really *did* try to give it a fair shot though.

    CJ–word!!! Snideness is cool and all, but there has to be something you connect with when you read heroines or heroes like this. What’s the fun in reading a series if you don’t like the characters?

  • M.
    June 17, 2008 at 8:18 am

    i’m beginning to feel, not exactly like twins separated at birth with the book smugglers, then maybe like a second cousin once removed, or something. from books chosen to read simultaneously, to the weird fact that i was toying with my next blog post being about books i didn’t finish recently and why.

    *twilight zone music*

  • Anonymous
    June 17, 2008 at 10:02 am

    In response to Kmont – if you are looking for UF done well try Mercedes Lackey. She has a bard series that is excellent. The main character is male though.

    Erin in Boston

  • kmont
    June 17, 2008 at 10:26 am


    Thanks so much for the suggestion of Mercedes Lackey. I’ve actually read the books you speak of (I think, I have read a lot of her earlier work), but will check just in case. It has been a while since I’ve tried her stuff.

  • Thea
    June 17, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Would you believe I’ve never read any Mercedes Lackey? *ducks* Thanks for the rec, Erin–I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the Bard series. And male UF protagonists are great to read–a nice change of pace from all the kickass heroines that dominate the genre (although I must admit I am partial to the heroines). I have very much enjoyed Harry Dresden, and have Rob Thurman’s Nightlife next up on the TBR!

  • li
    June 17, 2008 at 10:52 am

    I’ve flipped through this one in the bookstore a couple of times, but never read a passage that made me think “I must have this now!”. I admit I was intrigued by the Kelley Armstrong blurb, but I’m trying to be less gullible now 🙂

    LOL at the dandruff excerpt. That would so have put me off.

    And I love your Alanna covers, btw. Mine’s different, IIRC.

  • meljean brook
    June 17, 2008 at 11:07 am

    “Marla picked her uncomfortable wedgie,”

    *laughing my head off*

    These are great covers, though. Ooh, and Tamora Pierce! You know, when I first read them, I wanted her with the prince. Only when I grew up and re-read them, did I realize how much better the thief was.

    /trip down memory lane

  • Sarai
    June 17, 2008 at 11:41 am

    WOW you know I’m glad you reviewed it b/c I was going to pick it up for the same reason. I will mark it off my list now unless someone tells me not too?

  • Anonymous
    June 17, 2008 at 11:44 am

    It actually gets better right after they leave the “party”. Intriguing characters pop up and really add to the story.

    I’m not a big Marla fan, she can be pretty selfish and abrasive, but I adore Rondeau.


  • Katie(babs)
    June 17, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Why, someone has taken my initials. *hmmm… rubs chin*

  • Thea
    June 17, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Li, I always get suckered in by those little author blurbs! I recently bought a book that had not a single blurb on it (Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan) and felt kinda jittery. (Randomly, this is kinda the same for movies too–although I guess sometimes no blurb is better than a quote from some radio station in Milwaukee saying “This is the best movie of the year!” but…I digress) And on the Alanna covers, I recently repurchased the series and I have the left hand covers for all four books. I love the one on the right, but the one I had when I was a kid were different though, and I can’t find them anywhere online 🙁 But here’s a cool listing of many Tamora Pierce covers:

    Meljean–I know, right?! When I was younger, I loved Jonathan–especially in those first two books. But then, by the last two stories it’s so clear that she and George are the perfect fit for each other. (Remember that Liam guy that showed up for a nanosecond in the last book? Heh. Never liked that guy at all. But I loved that Tamora Pierce gave a YA heroine that valued her own independence and heck even “shared a bedroll” with a few partners! It’s even more awesome in retrospect 🙂

    Sarai–if you do end up getting this one and read through it, let me know what you think! This book has garnered some pretty good reviews on amazon and from other review sites, so I’d be curious to see what you think!

    KB–thanks for sharing! I really did take a liking to Rondeau…I might just keep this book around on the shelf for a day when I’m feeling adventurous.

  • MentatJack
    June 17, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    You can take this with a grain of salt–I found Blood Engines engaging from page one–but I wanted to toss out 2 things:

    You might give the series a second chance with poison sleep, as the Marla is MUCH more likable at home in Felport, particularly with a love interest.

    I’m often wary of Author blurbs, but in the case of this Kim Harrison quote, she actually mentions Pratt in an interview on the podcast “I Should be Writing.” It sounded like she’d read and appreciated the same aspects of Blood Engines I had.

  • feyrieprincess
    June 17, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    I thought it was fabulous and it is dreadful that you are giving it the “Waste of Paper” award. I hope the pornomancer turns you into a hamster sold on Folsom St. in San Francisco…

  • Thea
    June 17, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Hey mentatjack–thanks for the encouraging rec for continuing the series/giving Blood Engines another shot. And that’s cool about the Kim Harrison interview!

    Feyrieprincess–yowza. That’s kind of raunchy. The Dunder Mifflin award was meant as a joke, not a horrid condemnation of the book–and I apologize if it offended you. That wasn’t my intent. If you found the book fabulous, then good for you–that’s your prerogative. And I’m all for expressing opinions and listening to anyone’s argument for the book and why you think it’s so fabulous.

    But come on now. Transforming me into a hamster on Folsom Street? Really? That’s just rude.

  • kendall
    June 17, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Blood Engines was great and Poison Sleep rocked, too.

    Yeah, Marla’s tough, snide, etc. On the other paw, we’re not seeing her on her best day. She has days or hours to save herself from something happening elsewhere that she can’t prevent. But she is human–not just a bitch. She’s driven and intense and usually doesn’t know how to compromise; but she makes mistakes, has regrets, etc.–shows qualities that made her more well-rounded (to me) than the review makes her sound. (Maybe that stuff was later in the book, or maybe it just didn’t bother me and I’m remembering more stuff from book 2.)

    Anyway, everyone’s different; no doubt some of you are missing out, while others of you won’t like it. (shrug) All I know is I loved both books–great ideas, cool magic, characters I liked (yes, even bitchy Marla), etc.

    BTW, I don’t understand the genderless comment. (grin&shrug) But I felt I got a good idea of who Marla was…again, maybe because I finished it? Or maybe the first 100 pages hit me differently? I dunno.

  • Thea
    June 17, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Hey Kendall–thanks for the perspective!

    I’m glad that Marla worked for you–and that perhaps later in the book she exhibits qualities that make her more relateable as a character. I should probably say it’s extremely rare for me to put down a book unfinished, but something about this heroine rubbed me completely the wrong way. But, like I’ve said here in the comments, I’ll keep this book around–with people coming in and making a strong case for it, I might just give it another go.

    On the genderless thing–I’m not sure how to put it, other than I couldn’t get a handle on Marla at all. Certain characters ‘feel’ a certain way, and besides being mean-spirited, I didn’t get anything else from Marla–even to the base level of gender. Damn, that sounds hokey (all these ‘feelings’ and such)…I can’t quite explain it. *blushes*

    Thanks again for sharing your POV. I appreciate it 🙂

  • vrc84
    October 11, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I read Blood Engines, but it was a forced effort. I didn’t like the main character and the tone of the story. I saw ‘Poison Sleep’ in the store and thought – “oh, pretty cover!” – then realized that it was the sequel to ‘Blood Engines’ and didn’t even bother.

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