4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Blood Engines is an edgy, violent urban fantasy. This is apparently the first in a series, which surprised me. The author throws you right into the action with very little explanation of who the characters are and why they are doing what they are doing and just lets the story unfold from there. It’s nice for an author to actually give the audience some credit and not explain every little detail all the time. The only attempts I spotted to lay groundwork for further books in the series are references to people who never actually appear in the book, but this really made sense and worked well in context. You very often get the impression that people just sort of make urban fantasy up as they go along, and this book was a nice departure from that. You feel like you are immediately immersed in a fully thought out world with believable characters and well defined rules. I would definitely recommend Blood Engines to anyone looking for a darker take on the urban fantasy genre.
Marla Mason is living on borrowed time. A rival sorcerer is preparing to cast a spell that will utterly destroy her, and her only hope to survive is to locate and use a particular artifact found somewhere in San Francisco. As she arrives, the local sorcerers begin to drop dead, attacked by poisonous frogs. Marla must discover who is killing off the sorcerers and recover the lost artifact before events back home culminate in her own destruction.
This is a dark book. The protagonist is self-serving and brutally violent. Even though the entire reason for her quest is to save herself from having a spell cast on her, she still feels proactive and like she is in control. This is a nice change of pace from the standard, purely reactive urban fantasy protagonist and adds a lot of depth to the character.
The story isn’t great but it works. It’s basically a standard quest to find a magical doohickey while encountering a series of challenges and interesting adversaries, but it’s done well and that’s the really important thing. I was consistently entertained throughout the book.
This is probably the first time that I haven’t been annoyed by constant sightseeing in an urban fantasy book because it actually makes sense in context. The protagonist is in an unfamiliar city, and it actually follows that a tourist would gravitate towards touristy locations. I’m not sure it paints a picture of San Francisco that many who have been there would agree with, but at least it’s not boring.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
This bore a striking resemblance to Harry Connolly’s Twenty Palaces series, which begins with the excellent Child of Fire. I’m not always in the mood for gritty urban fantasy, but when I am, my first choice would be either of these two authors.