Fantasy Review: ‘Moon’s Artifice’ by Tom Lloyd

Moon's Artifice“In a world of Gods and demons, monsters and superhuman warriors, cunning is the normal man’s last defense.”

A man proves very hard to kill.  Falling from a building, pushed by demon or God, he finds himself in desperation racing for a cure the poison he inhaled during the drop, a poison he obviously knows something about.  What chance he has at getting to a cure is ended abruptly by a shutter kicked into his head by Narin, law bringer of the Imperial City, jumpy in no small part due to the illicit tryst he is shouldn’t be involved in.  Confronted by a god, Narin is tasked with finding out just what the poisoned man was involved in.  In doing so he will be dragged into a plot much bigger than it originally appears.

Here is a book that is begging me to reread it.  Not just because it was very good, which I have no problem saying right out front it was.  But because it had those nagging little details that I want to go back and reset in my brain so I can figure out EXACTLY what was going on, what I missed, and what was just being left for the read to figure out.  There is plenty here for fans to codex; a complex caste system based around a heavy control of firearms and magic, a cast of gods who’s ascension into heaven is not only documented but very much on the minds of the people, and plenty of tribal confrontations that could confuse even the most ardent fantasy fan.  While not the most complex book I have read by a long shot, it is not a book to coddle the reader with early info dumps or heavy explanations.

Despite taking the lead on a very interesting investigation for the most part Narin was just along for the ride, relying on his friend Enchei or his boss, Lawbringer Rhe for inspiration, planning, and even action.  If you insist on having the protagonist be the center of the universe find another book, without the intervention of the god Lord Shield he would have most likely have been an afterthought.  But this didn’t bother me because the cast he was surrounded with was amazing.

Rhe was not an exciting character, but very interesting, a man that many thought was a possible choice for ascendency for near perfection as a lawbringer (something the gods had been known to do in the past for different professions).  Smart and able, but still given a human touch and never perfect.  Enigma Enchei follows a familiar fantasy trope, the old man who is more than he seems to be.  But rather than drag it out for the whole book we learn what makes him special early on, leaving him free to be awesome rather than an annoying mystery (of course those caught off guard by him don’t know everything we know).  And Kesh could have been a damsel in distress or love interest, brought into the investigation by her own tragedy, but instead was one of the most active members working against the big threat.

By far my favorite character line was the dangerous man who opens the book falling off a roof.  Because you see, it is the first time I can remember actually enjoying an amnesia plotline.  Maybe what makes it work is it is known immediately that the amnesia is the real deal, there is no backtracking or convenient pieces of information coming out of his mouth.  But then again maybe it is because what he could know is so important to people who have no idea what has happened to him; both sides are constantly adjusting their plans based on info that a major character no longer has.

Add in some crafty foxes, an evil society, and the threat of a war between the clans as bad as a well-remembered ten-day war that nearly broke the city.  Give it a shake and you have a well-crafted, original, and above all entertaining story.  I admit to being surprised, I was hoping for a good tale but didn’t expect so much depth.

Some minor quibbles that could be nothing more than something to clear up on a reread or perhaps addressed in a sequel; a few loose ends concerning the fate of Narin’s affair and its consequences and I never quite did figure out was a certain group of Stone Dragon’s actual were.  But they were very minor indeed.

4 Stars

Review copy received from Gollancz in return for an honest review.

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