The Big Idea: T.A. Pratt
Here’s a small and possibly irrelevant piece of personal trivia about Dead Reign, the third book by T.A. Pratt featuring sorcerer and all around badass Marla Mason: One of my best friends from Ben Lomond Elementary School in Covina, California was named Marla Mason. So when Blood Engines, the first book in the series, came out, it was difficult for me to imagine the book’s Marla Mason as anyone but my friend Marla, all grown up. Which was sort of a kick, if you know what I mean. I am assured by T.A. Pratt that the name is merely coincidental.
Fortunately for the rest of you, imagining a childhood friend as the heroine of these books is not required for their enjoyment: Mason is enough of a character in herself to stand quite well enough on her own. And that’s a good thing, because in Dead Reign she has to stand up to a very serious opponent: Death himself. Man, it’s always something. Here’s T.A. Pratt to explain why and how Mason has gotten herself into this predicament.
I didn’t think I’d ever write a series, but here I am, about to see publication of Dead Reign, the third book following a continuing cast of characters — though I like to think each book stands alone just fine. I can’t seem to stop myself; I’m having too much fun. The headliner for each book is Marla Mason, chief sorcerer of the imaginary east coast city of Felport, a woman whose job description falls somewhere between mob boss and superhero. (She keeps the city from being destroyed by malevolent supernatural entities. In exchange, she gets a nice cut of the city’s legal and illegal revenue.)
One of the perqs of Marla’s job is use of the dagger of office, a knife passed down from chief sorcerer to chief sorcerer over the decades, with a blade capable of cutting through anything, material or immaterial, from reinforced concrete to ghosts. One relatively uneventful summer day, Marla is visited by a young man who claims to be the god of Death, ruler of the underworld… and he says the dagger of office once belonged to him. Turns out the dagger used to be Death’s terrible sword, the blade from the grim reaper’s scythe, a nasty weapon capable of stealing life and carving up anything — even abstract concepts like time and hope. Death lost the weapon long ago (in a bet, naturally), and now he wants it back.
Most people would probably do what the god of Death asks, but Marla is more stubborn than prudent, and she refuses to give up the dagger. Death responds by banishing Marla from Felport and taking control of the city for himself, promising to let her back in once she agrees to his demands. Death’s not exactly experienced with governing living humans, but he has help from a couple of associates, including an elderly necromancer with the Cotard Delusion (that is, he thinks he’s *dead*), and the revivified mummy of presidential assassin, actor, and all-around bastard of a guy, John Wilkes Booth.
Having been beaten up and ousted from her home by a bona-fide god, a reasonable person might choose to cut her losses and make a deal. Marla, however, takes a different path. “If the god of Death is in my city,” she reasons, “that means the underworld is currently undefended.”
So she decides to invade and conquer Hell. (Not quite singlehandedly. She has her new personal assistant, a valet in the mode of Jeeves, who happens to be crushingly agoraphobic.) She figures if she takes over the underworld, she can trade Death his domain in exchange for hers.
My original plan was to have Marla enter a sort of patchwork underworld incorporating elements of the afterlife from various cultures, from the bureaucratic hell of Chinese mythology to the fields of Elysium to the Inferno of Dante. I got to thinking, though, about the way people create their OWN hells in life, and decided it would be more powerful to force my very flawed heroine to explore an underworld created from her own guilt, regret, and bad decisions… and inhabited by the not-insignificant number of dead people she’s personally killed.
(If that sounds a little weighty, rest assured that the underworld also contains steampunk cyborg dragons, guys with knives for fingers, and a guano-stained city full of undead pigeons.)
You can read more about Marla at MarlaMason.net, which includes a Marla Mason short story, “Pale Dog.” She’s recently started sharing glimpses of her life on Twitter. Visit T.A. Pratt’s LiveJournal here.