Moon’s Artifice by Tom Lloyd
Just finished reading Moon’s Artifice by Tom Lloyd and will start by saying what a great start to a fantasy trilogy. Thanks to Lisa at Tenacious Reader for this recommendation and I also agree completely that this book is greatly underrated. Given the plot, the characters and the world building I really don’t understand why there hasn’t been more of a commotion about it.
Anyway, moving on. To the story. At the start of the book our main protagonist, Narin, is given a task to complete by Lord Shield. Lord Shield is a God and therefore not somebody readily turned down. In his quest for information Narin will uncover a plot that threatens the lives of many of the people that, as would-be Lawbringer, he is sworn to protect He will join with three unlikely companions in a race to find the truth and during this search will encounter assassins, gods and demons alike. As the story moves forward a dastardly plot will be uncovered and the four will face a massive task in order to save thousands of lives.
Lloyd has written a really interesting world here with magic, assassins, gods and demons. The setting is the Imperial City which is divided into segments, each ruled by a particular noble house and then further sub divided into castes. This is a city embroiled with court politics and a grim reflection of extremes with poverty stricken neighbourhoods rife with crime on one hand whilst huge palaces with exotic gardens nestle in the other. The world building is very well done and easy to imagine. The Houses all believe themselves superior and rivalry exists between them all although it seems to be universally acknowledged that House Dragon and their warriors are superior and not to be toyed with – in fact better to keep them out of things as much as possible if it can be managed as they will wade in and kick major ass.
At the start of the story we make the acquaintance of Narin – as he unwittingly becomes the focus of Lord Shield. Narin is an investigator, currently operating under the wing and tutelage of Rye – the most respected Lawbringer in the city. At the start of the story you could probably say that Narin is hopelessly naive to a certain extent but this is something that he will eventually lose as he develops sharper edges. Narin is definitely a flawed character and you need only read the start of the story to find out why. He has secrets and frankly he isn’t perfect – you could almost be forgiven for wondering why his mentor Rye isn’t the main focus as he certainly seems more astute and far more capable in a tough spot. But I kind of like that Narin isn’t perfect. He isn’t totally ninja, he gets exhausted running up a large flight of stairs and his indiscretion has undoubtedly led him into a whole heap of trouble.
On top of this he is accompanied by his friend Enchei – an older man and supposedly a tattooist (responsible for tattooing people’s caste’s onto their shoulders) although he has many secrets of his own. Initially he comes over as a grouchy guy who refuses to bend the knee to his so called superiors and balks at everyday convention. Enchei is a great character and definitely one to pay attention to. I would have welcomed a little bit more information about exactly why he has befriended Narin but it’s possible this may be more forthcoming in future instalments. His other companions are Irato – one of the assassins’ order known as the Goshe who has mysteriously lost his memory following his clandestine rooftop adventure at the start of the story, and Kine, a fisherman’s daughter living in the poorer district and helping, alongside her sister, to keep her mother’s boarding house.
What I particularly liked about the story, including the magical elements and the slightly out of sync with the time inclusion of gunpowder weapons and other strange gadgets, was the way the Gods and Demons seem to interfere with everyday life. They’re all playing their own little games in an almost parallel way to the regular mortals. Each vying for supremacy. I liked that they simply appear amongst people and everyone is completely unphased by this! In a similar way, the demons take control of certain animals who become their eyes around the city. It is possible to call a demon and ask for help if you know the incantation. Not something to be tried at home though! The casual inclusion of deities and magic and the personalities of the four main characters are definitely the winning elements to this story.
In terms of criticisms. I didn’t really have anything major. I think the writing is very descriptive and that’s not to everyone’s taste as some prefer plot to prose but personally I enjoyed the detail. And, I would say this definitely has a quest type feel and in that respect there is the element of you fall into trouble, you get out of trouble, then you fall into trouble and get out of trouble. However, the pace is fast and the Lloyd definitely succeeds in building tension.
Overall I thought this was a very enjoyable read and I will certainly continue with the next book to see when Mr Lloyd takes us next.