I went and judged a book by its cover. You see, Blood Engines by T. A. Pratt (also published as Tim Pratt) has a cover by Daniel Dos Santos. Dan Dos Santos is the top, or almost the top, cover illustrator still actually working in the science fiction and fantasy field. (The great Michael Whelan is still alive, but he has moved on to fine art.) I reasoned that if Bantam was willing to spring for a Dos Santos cover, then they must expect great things from Blood Engines.
Well, the novel isn't bad. It's readable and moves right along. It has a big problem though: The main character isn't likable. Now, it terms of art, this is a daring choice for the author to make. But in terms of pleasure reading, it makes it difficult for the reader to enjoy the work and lose himself in it. We don't particularly want to experience a universe through the viewpoint of a bad person.
Now, in fantastic literature that people read voluntarily and not for a required class, Stephen R. Donaldson with his character Thomas Covenant used an unlikable protagonist to great commercial and artistic success. Covenant, though, while difficult to like, was at least sympathetic. He had been through much grief and had a reason for being unpleasant. Pratt's character, Marla Mason, is arrogant, foolish, violent, exploitative, and ruthless because that is her basic personality. As the novel goes on, it is hinted that she is also, perhaps, megalomaniacal. The reader is left wondering if it would not be better if her opponents kill her off. Her only redeeming quality appears to be that she cares about her home city, which she runs much like a mob boss.
Aside from the big problem of a protagonist I didn't like and didn't want to identify with, a secondary flaw shattered my willing suspension of disbelief at one point. There is a scene in which Marla Mason defeats a god in a straight-up kung-fu fight. True, the god is bound and limited, but please, we're talking a deity. Mason doesn't trick him or surprise him; she just outfights him with superior technique. Right.
In short, Blood Engines isn't a bad or poorly written book, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped.