My impression of this book from marketing was that it was going to be a sci-fi erotica. The author (in a blog entry) talked(copied from Amazon review)
My impression of this book from marketing was that it was going to be a sci-fi erotica. The author (in a blog entry) talked about exploring the "Aphrodite archetype" in a world where sexuality and sensuality are accepted, comfortable subjects. Much like the short-lived "Firefly" TV series, courtesans are high-status artists who are a little bit therapist, a little bit diplomat, and a lot sexual artist.
I like erotica quite a bit, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Cythera is more of a 1960s/70s-influenced sci-fi adventure: Cythera and a delegation of diplomats are escorting a young, naive treaty groom (Hereu) from a sex-segregated society to his wedding on another planet (Agni), in order to end the war with Agni. Lots of political factions from Agni don't like that, and are actively working to impede it, in both political maneuverings and space fights.
There's also a romantic subplot, between Cythera and a widowed starship pilot (Athain), intertwined with a lot of the erotica. The lovely (dare I say feminist?) romance of equals, well-established in their careers, for whom there's never any conflict between career and romance, also contributes to the classic sci-fi feel.
Things I loved: all the characters learn from each other--it's not just the Wise Courtesan teaching the naive virgin about sex. Cythera makes mistakes and has things to learn from Hereu as well. The world-building is impeccable and engaging, especially for such a short work. The behind-the-scenes looks we get at the work it takes Cythera's temple to build erotic fantasies makes the erotic scenes themselves sexier and more grounded in reality.
Things I hated: Well, I wished it was about three times longer, with more plot and room for character development and interaction. It *feels* like the novella it is, complete with pacing problems. Graham does well in building coherent narrative and character arcs out of a handful of events and interactions, and the slow, luxurious world of the temple courtesans contrasts well with the hurry-up-and-wait space travel. But I still felt like the plot and the characters could have used more space to expand and breathe on the page, even with a fast-paced plot that only covers the span of a few days.
Overall: if you like classic sci-fi adventures with female protagonists, this is a great choice, even if you're not the biggest fan of erotica. If you like erotica (especially featuring exhibitionism, some light S&M, and a little humiliation) with sci-fi plot, this is for you. If you like political sci-fi and world-building, this is for you. It's definitely already on my re-read list! ...more
I had some issues with "Blood Engines," the first Marla Mason book. While the plot was interesting and kept me guess(copied from my amazon.com review)
I had some issues with "Blood Engines," the first Marla Mason book. While the plot was interesting and kept me guessing, I found the characters and writing style very flat. I am fairly certain that if I hadn't started with the prequel, "Bone Shop," I never would have picked up "Poison Sleep."
And that would have been a shame, because I really enjoyed "Poison Sleep." The title character is still a no-nonsense, ass-kicking thug of a magical city manager, but she seems to have actual feelings and thoughts beyond that one-note character description. Some of this may be due to the early introduction of a "beautiful boy"--a man with the magical ability to wind anyone and everyone around his little finger, definitely including Marla. Some of it may be growth in the author's writing. And some of it may be that "Poison Sleep" is more of a "howdunnit" than a "whodunnit."
T.A. Pratt's penchant for alternating points of views is a weak writing choice and often unnecessary, but it does mean that we understand the villain(s)' motivations and plans early on in the story. If we assume (as I always tend to) that the main character will win out in the end, speculation turns towards how Marla will figure things out and fix the mess. In fact, in this book, the few "whodunnit"-style mysteries that Pratt leaves for big reveals are obvious and flat, while the rest of the magical procedural is hard to put down.
The one other major problem with "Poison Sleep" is that a large part of the plot revolves around a magical young woman whose mind was fractured due to a rape in her youth. Pratt's take is just as cliched and nearly as insensitive as any other pseudo-psych, "rape makes characters more *interesting*" tripe prevalent in urban fantasy.
That said, I still raced through "Poison Sleep" in a three hour marathon session, and found myself itching to pick up the next book in the series. If Pratt continues improving at the rate he's been going so far, book three will be fantastic and book four will blow my mind....more
I backed into the Marla Mason series by T.A. Pratt. A friend mentioned the series, and I read the prequel "Bone Shop" first, sincMy Amazon.com review:
I backed into the Marla Mason series by T.A. Pratt. A friend mentioned the series, and I read the prequel "Bone Shop" first, since it was available for free on the author's website. The main character intrigued me enough to pick up the first written novel.
The "first novel" feeling pervades the book, I think primarily because T.A. Pratt so far appears not to have figured out how to show, rather than tell. We get a lot of explanation about what type of person each character is, which is frankly unnecessary. Based on a fairly well-plotted story (which this one is), we can draw our own conclusions.
Marla Mason herself is a very pragmatic, thuggish sorcerer. No heart of gold; no Alpha male swooping in to love her into submission. I happen to really like this take on a character; it's refreshing to have such a straightforward main character who is a woman. Hat-tip to T.A. Pratt for that. However, whether it's a first novel problem or an author problem or a character problem, this straightforwardness is harped on to the point of making Marla feel two-dimensional and caricatured.
Pros: -Interesting cast of characters of varying power levels, species, sexuality, and race. -There are definitely some unpredictable solutions to some of the characters' problems, and I appreciated the innovation. -Respectful treatment of fluid sexuality (yay for multiple canon non-monosexual characters!) and the BDSM scene
Cons: -The Chinese/Chinese-American characters definitely felt stereotyped into specific orientalist tropes. -The novel has a very flat affect. Nothing really ever seems to touch Marla or the other characters--at least one large tragedy happens and the major characters all shrug and talk about how the tragedy will be covered up. Basically, the predominant emotion radiating from the book is boredom. And if the author is bored with his story, how can he expect the reader to care about it?
Overall: I enjoyed the book, despite its flatness and two-dimensional characters. The prequel makes me hopeful that T.A. Pratt's emotional range has grown over the course of the series, and the plot was intriguing enough for me to consider my money well spent and be quite willing to purchase the sequel, "Poison Sleep." 3.5/5...more