Blood Engines (Marla Mason Book 1) Review

Marla Mason has temporarily left the city she rules as guardian to seek help from another sorcerer in dealing with what should have been a minor problem that’s become much more. With little interest in anything except saving her own skin, arriving to find San Francisco in the middle of magical problems of its own is the last thing Marla needs.

 

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Urban fantasy is a favorite genre of mine nowadays, and I’ve previously read short stories by T. A. Pratt that were great. As such I came into Blood Engines pretty excited, but while it’s decent I have to admit I left a touch disappointed. It’s one of those books where I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Marla’s world contains a wide array of interesting magic systems with accompanying philosophies and practitioners. It was all creative, well designed, and explained in depth. However that last bit was part of the problem. Each magic specialty was presented info-dump style by an expert in it explaining why it was foolproof moments before it proved not to be.  The repetitious slog through technical explanations of how magic worked killed the pacing, particularly given how obvious it was that something was going to go horribly wrong whenever the speaker finished lecturing. It’s a weird feel. Pratt seems to try so hard to properly present his imaginative environments that they somehow get a little boring. Also, while pretty tastefully done, some of the subject matter is going to seem out of the blue and unnecessary to some readers. 

Marla herself was largely intentionally unlikable. She’s pretty much neutral to anything other than her own goals. I’m all for flawed protagonists and room for character growth, but it falls flat here. Rather than achieving shades of grey with her, the outlook and actions Pratt gave her just made her someone who’s hard to root for or care about.

The story was fine and there were definitely gripping and fun portions in the book, but honestly the hints dropped about Marla’s past and home town were more interesting than the side trip to San Francisco this entire book is about. Several twists walked the line of trying to be too clever and neat, including what I found to be an anticlimactic end. It was logical, but lacking in drama. Unfortunately the epilogue struck me the same way, meaning both storylines that built tension throughout the book kind of whimpered to a close.

Blood Engines is less than the sum of it’s parts. The characters and the world that surrounds them show significant potential and the writing style is solid enough, but the weaknesses I talked about above undermine it all. It’s ok overall, and I’m curious enough that I probably will give book 2 a try, but this should have been better given the quality of the underlying ideas.

 

 

Hellequin: Scorched Shadows Review

This is Nathan Garret’s seventh adventure, and the last book in the Hellequin series. Do not start here – go back to the beginning.

 

My reviews:

Crimes Against Magic (book 1)

Born of Hatred (book 2)

With Silent Screams (book 3)

Prison of Hope (book 4)

Lies Ripped Open (book 5)

Promise of Wrath (book 6)

 

This is going to be short, and free of any plot details. It will contain sentiments that in some sense qualify as general spoilers, so consider this a quasi-warning.

 

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The good:

  • McHugh’s writing continues to be excellent.
  • Several major mysteries of the series are addressed.
  • The book was engaging and interesting.

 

The less so:

  • A couple of the reveals were what I least wanted.
  • I despise bait and switch.
  • I feel like I just read a seven book fucking prologue.

 

I still adore the series and highly recommend it, but I’m admittedly a bundle of mixed feelings on where things ended up right now. I found this book excellent and infuriating in equal measure.

 

Hellequin Series Finale Predictions

“The pen might be mightier than the sword, but it’s probably not going to end well for you if you bring one to a gunfight.”

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Hellequin series, and the release of the final book chronicling Nathan Garrett’s adventure is imminent. There’s a ton left to address in the last installment, and I’d like to ramble a bit to get my thoughts in order and share some speculation.

Obviously there are going to be all kinds of spoilers for the previous six books here. Go read them first!

My reviews:

Crimes Against Magic (book 1)

Born of Hatred (book 2)

With Silent Screams (book 3)

Prison of Hope (book 4)

Lies Ripped Open (book 5)

Promise of Wrath (book 6)

 

 

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Edit 10/18/17: well, this blog was based off of several false premises. All of this would have been much different if the advertising hadn’t been so misleading.

None the less, it was still an interesting bit of brainstorming and I’m leaving it up.

My review of the final book can be found here.

——-

 

The four biggest plot points that need to be addressed in the final volume seem to be Arthur’s return, Nate’s past and the true nature of his magic, the mysterious villain known so far only as “My Liege,” and the Fates’ prediction for Nate.  There are several related underlying story threads tied to each, and of course.

 

“Arthur’s not the man everyone thinks he is.”

 

Arthur’s return will likely be a framework for the answers to everything else. Avalon’s rule and the benefits and problems with it provide the backbone for several conflicts and ongoing story threads. I don’t think Nate will be entirely happy with the new status quo and will have words with Arthur and Merlin at some point, but he’ll defend Avalon all the same when push comes to shove.

 

“Eventually you’ll discover the truth, eventually you’ll learn exactly who you are. But there’s going to be an awful lot of pain and death between now and then.”

 

Likewise Nate’s final dealings with his nightmare Erebus, Nate’s missing pieces of his past, and the true nature of magic will be important points but largely wrapped up in other happenings. I of course expect the remaining blood curse marks to fade, releasing Erebus, restoring all of Nate’s memories, and giving Nate his full range of abilities. There’s also the possibility of a second form of Omega magic for Nate looming (matter or mind, my bet’s on the latter), which could be key in how everything plays out. I’m expecting power on the level of Merlin, but with Nate unable to fully control it at first due to whatever traumatic events lead to its release.

The biggest mysteries around Nate’s memories are why everything before age eight was sealed and who his father is, and I expect both to be addressed. Arthur or Zeus seem prime candidates for his father, but it could be a yet unnamed mythological figure too. I feel like it will end up being “My Liege” (more on that to come), explaining that Nate’s mother sealed his memories to protect him from his own father.

 

“They might have been insane, but they didn’t appear to be stupid.”

 

Here’s where things get really interesting. Someone who definitely needs to have been previously identified in some way is the true identity of the nebulous villain referred to as “My Liege” that’s been casting a shadow over half the series. His/her plans will come to fruition with Hera now in control of London, and Nate will find himself in the center of a civil war intent on overthrowing Arthur and Avalon.

Arthur or Merlin would be anticlimactic as well as a bit nonsensical (although I have enough faith in McHugh’s writing at this point that I’m sure he’ll find a logical way to explain whatever the reveal is). A long shot is Galahad (which would also tie into the final major mystery), but the way he and Nate were estranged for years make this unlikely. Modred would be so groan inducing and counter to the intriguing developments in Promise of Wrath I don’t even want to entertain that possibility. Zeus, presumed dead and mentioned in a noble context throughout the series, would make nice twist as the ultimate villain. That’s the one I’m hoping for, but I think “My Liege” may be tied to missing Norse Gods and/or the identity of Nate’s father. So Odin’s my guess for both, although I don’t really know. There is a bit in the latest book about Odin being extremely upset about the identity of Nate’s father, which I think is a misdirect. If not, someone like Zeus or Loki could still fit my theory of “My Liege” being Nate’s father.

The fact that there’s enough to form theories on but several legitimate ways for this all to play out is a testament to the great job McHugh’s done layering all his stories together.

 

“We need to have a good long talk, you and I. And frankly I can think of no better time than when you’re helpless and about to be crushed by a falling building.”

 

The resolution of the Fates’ prediction for Nate’s future, one way or the other, definitely needs to be resolved. Which means someone close to Nate is going to betray him in spectacular fashion. Modred, Merlin, Arthur, etc aren’t close enough to him anymore to send him into “end of the world” type rage. Galahad and Serene are possibilities, but it’d be a bit of a retread as he had issues with each previously. Somewhat minor supporting characters that he trusts such as Elaine, Diana, Lucy, etc are possible, but unlikely I think.

Which really leaves only two possibilities as far as I can see, and either will rip readers’ hearts out. Tommy or Hades (and/or his family, Persephone and Sky) betraying Nate would certainly shove him in the direction of “dangerous to the continued existence of the world.” Tommy actually seems more likely to me from a plot perspective, as it would explain a lot about what happened with Gilgamesh. Character-wise it doesn’t seem like any of them would take the actions or work with the people “My Liege” has, but I CAN see one of them being disillusioned enough with Avalon to take drastic measures and/or doing something they think is for the best for the world at large that betrays Nate as a side consequence. Mordred’s role of needing to stop Nate actually seems pretty likely to me of coming true, but in an unexpected way such as at Nate’s own request and/or by doing something that only metaphorically kills Nate (helping him merge consciousnesses permanently with Erebus, perhaps…).

 

“You’ll wish you finished the job.”

 

There are several significant, subtle things hanging about that might or might not get mention/development, such as Ares’ grudge against Nate for what happened to his son, Hope’s desire for vengeance on anyone involved with Pandora’s creation, Lucie’s pronouncement that “we” will ask Nate to do something in the future that he will not refuse, etc. I expect a handful to tie in and a few to be left unresolved.

In addition to all the major players from previous books that should be included in the finale, I’m also hoping for a lot of cameos of near-forgotten characters from early in the series, and I trust McHugh to work them in seamlessly.

 

“You don’t scare me.”
“Then clearly you haven’t been paying attention.”

 

I’m sure I’ve missed some details and musings bouncing around in the back of my mind but this is a decent summary of the mile-a-minute anticipation I going though as I wait to read the ultimate installment of McHugh’s urban fantasy epic. Needless to say, I’m quite looking forward to it. 🙂

Ghost Detective Review

“Everybody dies. Nobody leaves.”

Private detective of sorts Myron Vale has good reason to be reclusive. Ghosts remain on Earth after someone dies. ALL of them. Myron is twice cursed by a lingering injury, as not only can he see and interact with the multitude of ghosts everyone else is unaware of, he can’t tell them from the living…

 

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Ghost Detective surrounds a strong hard boiled detective core with a fascinating supernatural concept. The blending of the two genres really works and the premise is well used. Little details, like Myron being a recluse, arise naturally and make things feel authentic within the extraordinary setup.

The story is a little heavy on plot convenient coincidence and a few things fit too neatly, but it’s still compelling overall, with logical progression and reasonably interesting characters and developments. This is a good opening book, and Myron’s adventures have the potential to be even better going forward.

Hellequin: Prison of Hope Review

“You don’t scare me.”

“Then you clearly haven’t been paying attention.”

 

Prison of Hope is Nathan Garret’s fourth adventure. It’s a complete story on its own and does a good job of explaining the key concepts and characters, but also builds heavily on previously known characters and established backstory. Best to not to start here – go back to Crimes Against Magic (book 1). Also see my reviews for Born of Hatred (book 2) and With Silent Screams (book 3).

 

Tartarus, like all mythical things, isn’t quite as legends say. But it is the involuntary home of beings too dangerous to stay free. In 1936, the only known breakout occurred when the demon/human hybrid Pandora escaped and was tracked by sorcerer Nathan Garret. Now someone else hopes to become a second “success” story…

 

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Prison of Hope promises to be the most ambitious Hellequin novel right off the bat by opening with a “List of Characters” section, naming key persons in both the flashback and current time periods. It’s a nice touch. Since the list is quite long it of course helps as a reference to keep everyone straight as the reader progresses, but it also raises anticipation for the appearances of some of the familiar mythological beings named that haven’t shown up in the series before. The skill with which McHugh blends numerous mythologies and magic systems into a cohesive world is masterful, as is his ability to then turn things on their head in believable, logical ways. His take on both Pandora and the Greek pantheon is fascinating and adds a lot of intrigue to the plot.

The flashback and modern time stories parallel and complement each other beautifully and the pace stays brisk and gripping throughout. McHugh has really found the perfect balance at this point of answering old questions and organically creating new ones in each new book to keep the series from getting stale without losing the suspense and atmosphere at the center of Hellequin’s appeal. Each new clue or detail about Nate’s past is a treat. There’s strong appearances by established supporting cast members as well as several new characters who are all well developed and distinct. And often annoying, but antagonists are supposed to be.

I’m going to wrap up here to avoid spoiling any of the surprises Prison of Hope has in store. One key reveal is actually spoiled in the book description, so if you’ve somehow found my review without reading that try to avoid it.

Prison of Hope is my favorite of the Hellequin series, combining compelling characters and plot in a suspenseful and gripping way.

Hellequin: With Silent Screams Review

“Sure, do you have a plan?”
“No, I was hoping you did.”
“Excellent. This should be fun then.”

With Silent Screams is Nathan Garret’s third adventure. It’s a complete story on its own and does a good job of explaining the key concepts and characters, but tons of significance and context would be lost without knowing Nate’s background first. Best to not start here – go back to Crimes Against Magic (book 1). Also see my review for Born of Hatred (book 2).

 

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An old friend’s murder throws Nate into a long battle of move and counter move all connected to a series of grizzly murders he helped investigate thirty years ago. The care and expertise with which McHugh plays with and builds off of these cliched starting points makes With Silent Screams an incredible ride and easily the best of the Hellequin series thus far. The pace is breakneck without glossing over anything or losing the reader and a fantastic level of tension and intrigue permeates the book.

One of the best things abut this installment is the flashbacks and current time are equally interesting. Don’t know is McHugh is just finding a better balance, if the proximity to current day of the flashbacks helps, or if it’s because of how completely the stories are intertwined. Probably all three. The net effect is that I didn’t experience the slight drag the previous books had whenever going to the past timeline.

Although did I notice on rereading the previous two books I was more invested in those past events than the first time through, and in this one knowing how things would turn out took just a little of the reading urgency away. All three held up very well overall though and I’m glad to discover I’ll enjoy revisiting these, likely regularly.

The supporting cast is developing wonderfully and there are both great new additions and reappearances from old favorites. The mythos is expanding naturally and logically and everything from the magic system to the way various mythological figures coexist is compelling and engrossing.

Overall this third Hellequin novel brings the already strong series up several notches and builds great momentum for future books. Highly recommended.

Hellequin: Born of Hatred Review

This is Nathan Garret’s second adventure. It’s a complete story on its own, but does build off of events in Crimes Against Magic (book 1). Better to start there.

 

Nathan Garrett’s former identity is dead and buried. But when a case he takes for a friend recalls elements of one from his past involving an evil even Hellequin had trouble with, Nate might need the edge and ruthlessness he once had.

 

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This second installment if the Hellequin series is slightly more straight forward than the first, with fewer surprises and more full blown exposition. However the disparate mythologies blend even better here and a great batch of new characters carry things along nicely. We find out more about Nate’s world, the different creatures that inhabit it, and the societal structures that go along with it all. I really like how things are developing in a world building sense.

The past admittedly still somehow drags compared to the present despite a lot of action and danger. It does pick up eventually and everything comes together nicely in the end but it is a small mark against the book as it’s roughly divided in half between past and present and one is far more interesting than the other. Overall it feels very different from Crimes Against Magic, but I enjoyed Born of Hatred just as much and it continued to establish Hellequin as one of my favorite series.