Moon’s Artifice by Tom Lloyd

Posted On 8 August 2014

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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.

 

 

In which I give you fantasy not to be missed!

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic:

Top Ten Books I’d Give To Readers Who Have Never Read X:

Well, if you’ve read this blog before you’ll probably realise I focus fairly strongly on fantasy with a sprinkling of sci-fi and a little horror, mystery and history.  So, for my ten choices this week I’m going for books from fantasy to give you an idea how you can read many different styles whilst getting your fantasy fix (let’s face it, I never miss a chance to bang on the fantasy drum).  This may seem like a bit of a cheat because I do have more than one example for each description but I do only have 10 descriptions!!

Fantasy:

  1. Children: Something to read to your children (not too young though – particularly if they don’t like spiders!!): The Hobbit by JRTolkien
  2. For the YA: I’m going to go with Harry Potter by JK Rowling, this is a series that a young person can get their teeth into and grow up with.  The series becomes progressively darker and the school setting means that a YA audience can easily relate.
  3. If you want stories with a fairytale feeling: The Graveyard Book, Stardust, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – BUT not all of Gaiman’s work is a light read so be careful what you pick up!!  Or, Sarah Pinborough who recently wrote three short books that were fairytale retellings – Poison, Charm and Beauty.  They depict a different side to Disney’s princesses and although fairytale style are definitely adult books.
  4. If you want alternative history: there are a few examples for this but, some are a bit deep if you’re new to fantasy and don’t want to move straight to epic – the major series that has turned people’s opinions on their head in terms of fantasy is the Game of Throne series by GRRMartin which is not so much alternative history but does have a mediaeval setting (that being said – this is fairly epic to say the least!). There is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This is a very indepth venture set during Napoleonic times.  Alternatively, the series written by Jasper Kent  (The Danilov Quintet) which is an alternative Russian history with Vampires otherwise known as Vorodalak – starts in Napoleonic times and works up to early 1900s.  If you want an alternative Victorian history then a bit of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate might not go amiss – steampunk with a bit of spice.  Otherwise you could just opt for Bram Stoker’s Dracula which is a classic.
  5. Light and whimsical, only bordering slightly on fantasy: I would suggest two authors for this – Joanne Harris (Chocolat, Coastliners or Blackberry Wine) or Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic, The River King. or The Museum of Extraordinary Things).
  6. Grimdark – well, this is very popular in fantasy at the moment and maybe not for everyone.  However, I love Mark Lawrence’s Prince/King and Emperor of Thorns.  This series is dark and even more so because of the age of Jorg at the state of the story.  But, in spite of this Lawrence’s writing and plotting is second to none.  The vision he has for the whole series is nothing short of breathtaking.  If you want to try something a little lighter but set in the same world then ML has started a new trilogy starting with Prince of Fools – this is set in the same world as the Broken Empire (Thorn) books but has a different feel completely with two very enjoyable characters – I can’t deny that the ending gets a little bit more heavy BUT I think by then you’ll be totally invested in the main characters.
  7. Military based, I recently read Django Wexler’s Thousand Names – this is alternative military, apparently known as ‘flintlock’ (thanks to Mogsy for letting me in on that secret!) which apparently means based during the musket era.  I really enjoyed this book, it is fairly in depth to be honest but for people who want to go easy on the fantasy element it’s very lightly done.  If you fancy something a little bit different then All You Need is KIll is very short, quick and enjoyable – set in the future with battles against aliens but the central character, who dies at the start of the story (that isn’t a spoiler) then comes back to relive the day over and over – groundhog style.
  8. Something a bit more romantic: – The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  Involving a bit of jumping back and forward in time this is a good series (although I haven’t read all of them).  If you want something a bit more, ahem, spicy, then Karen Chance or Christine Feehan maybe (so I’m told…..!).
  9. Detective based: Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files – this is one of those series that has a world living in parallel to the everyday mundane world.  It involves a wizard called Harry who also acts as a private investigator and assists the police with ‘supernatural, cases.  A very entertaining series so far.
  10. Classic:: I had to do it – I never miss an opportunity!  It would be rude not to mention Lord of the Rings by JRTolkien and this way I start and finish the piece with him.  However for other classic fantasy – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, Frankenstein – the list could very easily go on and then on some more!

Now, if you were going to dip your toe in the fantasy pond do you think you might be tempted by one of the above?????

American Elsewhere by R J Bennett

Just finished reading American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett.  I’ve been longing, nay gagging, to read this book for quite some time, partly because I’ve really enjoyed all this author’s other books and also I read a stellar review over at Little Red Reviewer.  What can I say – other than it doesn’t disappoint.

In usual Bennett fashion the book seems to defy any particular genre.  Is it sci-fi?  Yes, in some respects.  Is it horror? Definitely in certain places.  Is it spooky and paranormal? The first half of the book definitely fits into that, well, actually, so does the second half!.  Is it quirky and are there tentacles aplenty…I couldn’t possibly say, or at least if I told you I’d have to kill you – so think on!

Where to begin with this review!   The book opens with a funeral and a will reading.  Mona’s father having passed away has bequeathed upon her his worldly goods.  No real sorrow here as there seems to have been little love lost between the two.  Mona seems to be there for one purpose only – to get her hands upon her late father’s red sports car – that is until she discovers that there’s a house also involved in the will.  A house that appears to have belonged to her mother and is situated in a place called Wink!  An opportunity to maybe finally discover more about the mother she lost at such an early age and in such strange circumstances that the details have been indelibly imprinted upon her mind.

And so Mona sets off to lay claim to her property.  Of course this isn’t as easy as it at first appears.  The town of Wink seems to be unheard of.  It doesn’t show on any maps, nobody can give you meaningful directions, you basically have more chance of happening upon Brigadoon.  Remember that horror movie, I think it was called Children of the Corn (but I could be making that up) where once you’ve driven into the village, no matter which road you take to exit it leads you straight back?  Well, this is the exact opposite.  Wink seems to exist in a bubble. That being said Mona somehow manages to find a way in – making a rather dramatic entrance in her flashy red car as she interrupts a rather sombre funeral that practically all the town seems to be attending.

Wink is a strange place.  Picture postcard perfect and yet goose bump forming with its quiet streets and creepy inhabitants.  You could be forgiven for thinking Mona has entered the land of Stepford and yet this isn’t all about perfect partners in flowery pinafores making preserves.  Things in Wink are not quite as they seem.  The facades are perfect but inside the walls a different story unfolds.  And, people don’t go out at night. There seems to be an unspoken agreement that its best to stay indoors!  In trying to uncover more background about her mother Mona begins to reveal the weirdness that is Wink.  Sometimes out of the corner of her eye things look different than they first seemed and after forming a tentative friendship with a couple of the more eccentric locals cracks begin to appear in the outer veneer.  Is it wise to dig too deeply and has Mona’s arrival in the small town of Wink become the catalyst for a string of events that everyone will come to regret.  Like I’m going to answer that!

The problem with reviewing this book is that it would be so easy to spoil the reveal and I really don’t want to do that so I’m basically not going to elaborate on the plot at all.  On to other points

This is a big book with plenty of detail and information and yet it doesn’t feel slow.  There’s this delicious creepiness that draws you in until you realise that you’ve read what effectively is the first half of the novel and what then turns into the fundamental turning point for the whole story.

In terms of characters.  Lets just say they’re an eclectic bunch – not only the inhabitants of the town (and the outer boundaries of the town) but the owner and employees of a rather sleazy bar called the Roadhouse (situated just out of the town boundaries) – rather a den of iniquity with drugs, fighting, prostitution and a sinister and bizarre partnership between the owner and an unknown man who supplies the drugs that make the place a magnet for certain types.  Of course he doesn’t supply these drugs out of the goodness of his little old heart and the services he requires in exchange are odd at best and nightmare inducing at worst (plus – there’s a particular scene which leads to the discovery of where these drugs actually originate and it’s pretty revolting to say the least – I think it would be enough to make anybody think twice!)

Plus, there are even odder characters that live in the forests on the outskirt of Wink – giant characters that seem to inhabit strange places and one particular character that dwells in a cave filled with tiny rabbit skulls – be very afraid of this particular person!

Then we have Mona – she’s really quite cool.  Got a whole bunch of attitude and I confess a bit of a potty mouth but it fits in with her persona and doesn’t feel gratuitous.  Mona never really settled down and a series of sad events in her past seem to have turned her into a bit of a hard case loner.  She certainly isn’t a shrinking violet and doesn’t need rescuing – she can damn well look after herself thank you very much.  I wouldn’t say I love Mona but she is a good character to read and the whole turning into a ‘green beret’ type kick ass in the forest was great readingl.

In terms of criticism I think the only point I would make is that I didn’t feel any particular attachment for any of the characters.  I didn’t dislike them and I was crazy intrigued to know what was going on but I didn’t have that strange reader/character bond that you sometimes seem to feel for these imaginary people.  That confessed it certainly didn’t stop me from feeling gripped and I wonder if it’s the author’s intention that you feel this way towards the characters – they’re all a little odd after all.

The setting is really very well portrayed and the town easy to envisage.  Shrouded in mystery – why is this town here, how come nobody ever leaves.  What strangeness exists in the woods and who is the guy with the long rabbit like ears (or could they be horns)!

On top of this – there’s this whole scene where one of the more unusual characters uses a scene from a Gene Kelly film – I loved that scene.  Sorry, I know it’s a bit of a teaser to write this in this way but there’s nothing else for it!

Plus – who’d have thought sibling rivalry could be so drastic.

Anyway, that’s all I’m going to not say about it!  Consider yourself teased and go check it out for yourselves.  If you want to read about a mysteriously creepy little town and the whys and wherefores of the strange inhabitants who live there then pick up American Elsewhere.

Other novels by RJ Bennett – all really good: The Troupe/Mr Shivers/The Company Man.

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

I just finished reading Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls.  Taking place in an alternative Elizabethan England which I confess had me at first backtracking and saying ‘what’ as I wondered if I’d not paid enough attention in history lessons.  I admit I was really looking forward to this novel and it didn’t disappoint.

This is a historical fantasy-come-mystery where history as we know it has been rewritten somewhat.  To begin with Elizabeth was married (to Robert Dudley) and has two children although her husband has now died and she is living in seclusion. Of course she’s still the same strong and feisty character even though she plays only a very minor role in this story.  So, that’s a fairly significant change to start with.  On top of that, and probably a bit more significant is that our explorations to the new world have introduced us to a new race of people called the Skraylings, based, I understand, on Nordic mythology.  The Skraylings now live amongst us although they’re not completely integrated or trusted.  The Queen’s ambitions however run to seeing an alliance between the races and as such the Skrayling Ambassador is about to visit London.  Of course this visit will stir up all sorts of emotion, not least of the murdering kind, and so a bodyguard is appointed to the soon to arrive Ambassador.  That gives a little flavour of the plot which as we go along embraces spying, political intrigue, a bit of skullduggery, assassination attempts, theatre, double crossing, etc, (okay I’ll stop there.  I’m sure you get the picture).

I liked the way that Lyle conjures up her setting.  She tempers her detail with sprinklings of fact and embellishes it further with her insights into other things that we love to read about with the Elizabethan era.  The dark and forbidding tower.  The name of Walsingham – the spy master!  The serious rivalry between different theatre troupes.  This is all blended with the feeling of fear that people generally lived with in a world rife with political and religious uncertainty not to mention a whole new race of people who many seem to harbour deep prejudices about.  All this is done in a way that isn’t overboard.  You have enough information to inspire the imagination but not too much that the background overtakes everything else.  For example, the author hasn’t attempted to replicate speech from the era and I for one am glad she didn’t.

In terms of the characters the main character is Mal Catlyn.  Catlyn is a down on his luck swordsman, his family have fallen on hard times and he’s literally out of cash and up to the eyes in debt.  At the start of the novel he’s practically press ganged into the protective body guard role much against his will.  It’s difficult to say why Mal dislikes/fears the Skraylings at this point but this will become clear during the course of the story.  Of course never was the saying ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ more apt and Mal is in no position to decline this offer of work although it could end up in a life threatening situation for him.  The other main characters are Ned, Mal’s longstanding friend and Coby – a young girl who masquerades as a boy in order to work with one of the theatre troupes – quite a little twist in there – females being unable to act on stage so men taking up such roles whilst in their company is a young girl dressed as a boy.  Of course this grants Coby a lot more freedom although does put her in a number of difficult situations.!  I liked Coby and thought she was a good way of bringing any number of awkward and embarrassing moments to bear.  Ned I wasn’t as keen on at first, I thought he was a bit weak and certainly not the best friend to have, although he does redeem himself later on in the story so I’m going to reserve judgement on him until I read the next novel.

In terms of criticisms I think some people may find the plot a little slow although I personally didn’t mind the pacing and thought it was a good set up for future stories.  I suppose my main criticism relates to the characters themselves which I felt needed a bit more somehow.  For example Mal.  I like him.  He’s not really a bad guy.  He gets taken on to a job that he doesn’t really like but he doesn’t do a half hearted job.  He really earns his money and he also overcomes his own prejudices and develops an understanding and liking for the Ambassador.  He can handle himself, he cares about people.  But I just wanted to spend a bit more time with him.  I do understand that the story was told from other POVs but even so I didn’t feel like I shared enough time with him to be tense or happy for him as the plot unfolded.  I think that was probably my main criticism to be honest although I imagine there will be time to get to know the characters much better as the way has now been laid perfectly for further stories.

On the whole a very enjoyable historical fantasy.  I will definitely continue with the series – and I will just throw in here that I love the cover – although I am curious about the name??  Anybody want to chuck me a clue then feel free to do so!

Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Foglio

Just finished reading Agatha H and the Airship City which I absolutely loved.  Now, before I start I will confess that I’ve not read the webcomics that this book is based on so my opinion isn’t based on any sort of comparison in that respect.  But I thought this was excellent and such good fun.  In fact I felt like I read most of the story wearing a ridiculous grin.  The authors have managed to take this story and write it in such a way that it’s a fully fleshed out novel but still manages to give you the same feeling you have when you read a comic which is no small achievement.

The story is set in a world of dashing and fearless heros where madcap sparks (inventors if you will) have turned the Industrial Revolution into  chaos creating all sorts of weird and wonderful contraptions.  The Heterodyne Boys – heroes of the people – have disappeared mysteriously and are now only remembered through the story books that people read that recount their adventures.  With no deterrent the remaining mad scientists fight a war for supremacy which results in the ruthless Baron Klaus Wulfenbach gaining ultimate control.  He now rules the country with an iron fist, aided by his strange and diverse collection of robots, Jagerkin and constructs that he has accumulated through the spoils of war and which now form part of his vast army.

Agatha is a lab assistant at a University.  She never manages to quite succeed with any of her inventions and seems to be plagued by headaches that leave her unable to think straight.  She seems doomed to mediocrity and life conspires against her.  Particularly as she sets off for work one morning and is robbed by a couple of down on their luck soldiers who steal her precious locket – this is then followed by the lab where she assists being overthrown and finally results in Agatha being taken prisoner aboard the Baron’s massive airship castle.

The characters in the story are really what made it for me.  Lets start with the Jagermonsters – I loved these guys!  They are so funny.  They’re huge and supposedly imposing in a scary way but they are so great to read and they were just weird about Agatha – ‘Hey! Hyu iz in schombodes howz!  Is not goot manners to say dey schmells fonny!  Come on, how can you resist.  I kept reading all their dialogue to my other half – he was strangely unimpressed.  I guess you had to be deeply in the throes of the story!  Then there’s all the gadets and robots – particularly all of Agatha’s made up bits and pieces that follow her about like lovesick ducklings.  On top of that there are baddies and goodies galore.  A bunch of mixed age range children who are all there to give the Baron leverage over their parents – an assortment of characters these not to mention their odd nanny Von Pinn who is this huge and scary Miss Whiplash type of character (really, I’m not kidding) not to mention a sinister assassin called DuPree.  Anyway, take my word for it – there is no shortage of excellent, sinister, moustache twirling, funny, dashing or geeky characters.  And, I liked all of them!  Even, and in fact especially, the baddies!

On top of that Agatha is a real treat to read.  She starts the story just marvellously naive about herself and her own past.  You could be forgiven for thinking that she was going to be a real pushover instead of which she manages to be quite kickass, intelligent and have a fiery temper once riled up.  The Baron’s son, Gil, is soon to take a liking to Agatha – and this is where the ‘romance’ element comes into the story.  Don’t be distracted by that though or think this is all about gushing, love sick devotion.  The two of them have in common their intelligence and love of invention and the relationship side is only very briefly touched upon here – in fact it’s more of a whet your appetite for things to come I suspect.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and happily I think there’s at least one further instalment already waiting to be picked up which I’m really looking forward to.  I think what really comes across with this novel is that the author’s enjoyed themselves writing it and it really shows.

So, zany, funny, steampunk, touch of romance and a grand adventure.  How could it fail to please? Not to mention mechanical insects that turn people into revenants!

I’m including this as one of my World’s Without End, Women of Genre fiction reading challenges and also for my Stainless Steel Droppings Once Upon a Time event.

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