In a quiet corner of the Imperial City, Investigator Narin discovers the result of his first potentially lethal mistake. Minutes later he makes a second.
After an unremarkable career Narin finally has the chance of promotion to the hallowed ranks of the Lawbringers - guardians of the Emperor's laws and bastions for justice in a world of brutal expediency. Joining that honoured body would be the culmination of a lifelong dream, but it couldn't possibly have come at a worse time. A chance encounter drags Narin into a plot of gods and monsters, spies and assassins, accompanied by a grief-stricken young woman, an old man haunted by the ghosts of his past and an assassin with no past.
On the cusp of an industrial age that threatens the warrior caste's rule, the Empire of a Hundred Houses awaits civil war between noble factions. Centuries of conquest has made the empire a brittle and bloated monster; constrained by tradition and crying out for change. To save his own life and those of untold thousands Narin must understand the key to it all - Moon's Artifice, the poison that could destroy an empire.
As I mentioned in the interview that I did with Tom Lloyd a few weeks ago, I have always wanted to read one of his books. What I have read and come to understand from reviews on his Twilight Reign series is that is great to read. And when the chance presented itself to take a peek at Tom Lloyd's latest book, Moon's Artifice, I just couldn't turn it down. Moon's Artifice besides being the latest book by Tom Lloyd also kicks-off a completely new fantasy series The Empire of a Hundred Houses. If you have read the synopsis of Moon's Artifice, you can see the promise of a lot of cool fantasy elements, and let me just tell you upfront, Tom Lloyd lives up to it all and goes beyond. I can't compare Moon's Artifice with Tom Lloyd earlier books, but Moon's Artifice is great stuff.
With just the first few sentences of the book, Tom Lloyd more than makes up my expectations. He throws you right in the action with a rooftop chase scene. Where you see Irato, one of the characters, being chased for his life. I really like this sudden introduction to the storyline, it gives you only one possibility, take a comfortable seat for the long run, because you are into one. After the events of the introduction, you get introduced to the main protagonist of Moon’s Artifice, Narin. Narin makes up only one of the storyline that you follow but is in essence the main one, Narin is currently working as an investigator for the law solving crimes. But by chance he is enrolled into a new investigation and a possible promotion into the ranks of Lawbringers. Lawbringers are held in a bit of an awe in the Imperial City, they are the elite and the best and this offer is just too good to say no too. By accepting this new task… Narin finds out more than he had bargained for. Narin’s character was for me a great protagonist to read about, he know his stuff, well that from being an investigator, he knows how the city goes round with the different houses, but he isn’t all knowing and all experienced. There are a lot of learning moments in the book for Narin, that are making him think twice about doing things on his own and it does seem that he is learning from his mistakes. He is strong, determined and doesn’t back down when challenged either verbally or physically. By this you might think he is only brawn and muscles, well your wrong, he has a much softer and compassionate side to his character and several relations really show a different and much softer side to Narin’s character, making him that much better and relatable. And what is better to have an investigator lead the story itself? It nicely helps in exposing both the world as he is discussing several aspects as well as considering his own investigation, really top choice!
A second protagonist that you follow, though his story largely takes place within that of Narin is Enchei. Now tattooist, but carrying enough scares of his brutal past as a warrior. When I first read about him I thought him just an casual addition to Narin’s role, bit like a friend. And for the first part it does continue this way, but later on, WOW yes WOW. I was doing a bit of dance of joy when I found out more about Enchei, I will try to be as cryptic as possible but he is badass. It might be a bit of a cliché of what it exactly entails but I REALLY DON’T CARE because it’s cool. One scene is still in the back of my mind, when Enchei is gearing up and takes to battle with his batton. I smiled and could hear the marching music start to play in my head. It’s pretty rough and violent but with the promise of what Enchei can do and how he did it… I could only smile. Enchei character, helps besides Narin to expose a lot of the world that you are introduced to and the great thing here is that Enchei is older than Narin and tells it in a much more storyteller kind of way, where Narin is more led by his personal opinion and emotions. Just again Enchei is awesome.
As a third there is an interesting point of view offered from Kesh, the female lead character. She is drawn into the plot by what is happening surrounding an unknown chest, her sister has lost her mind and now she doesn’t know how to go about it and fears for her mother and herself as well especially when everything starts to unravel and certain powerful forces come to show. A lot of the male storylines those of Narin, Irato, Enchei and Rhe do focus more on the action in most of the occasions, Kesh on the contrary offered a nice contrast to the exsiting action packed storyline. Her parts focused on how she cared about for her family and mostly trying to make things better, there are quite a few sad parts in her story, that put a hold on the fast pace of the storyline and somehow made me stop and rethink all that had happened so far. I really liked how these pauses were introduced, the story is full of information and these moments to reassert everything only let me embrace the story that much better. But back to Kesh now, in the beginning she doesn’t really know how to handle the whole situation but later when she is drawn into the fray of it all and teams up with Narin, she is suddenly grown tremendously and now not all of a sudden, but she is embracing the events and making up her own mind on how SHE wants to continue.
Besides these three there are a lot more characters that you follow but if I would have to discuss everyone I wouldn’t finish in time, instead I just want to briefly mention the other two characters that I already mentioned Irato and Rhe. Irato was followed in the opening chapter and only later on you learn why he has lost his mind and what it exactly means, I found his reaction when he was first confronted by Narin just spot on. Having lost his mind and having to answer basic question that he can’t recall he really is frustrated with himself and doesn’t know how to go about it. Rhe is an experienced and (in)famous Lawbringer and a bit of the go to guy for Narin besides Enchei. By Rhe you learn more about the order of Lawbringers their history and privileges. All in all I cannot seem fault in any of these characters, there are all a pleasure to read about and each is different, having their own habits and truly their own personalities, it’s these types of characters that I seek in fantasy, diverse, well fleshed out and relatable.
Were still discussing an epic fantasy story so let’s have a look at the world. Its exciting, fresh and new. The Imperial City is divided in parts by different ruling Houses. All have their alliances and enemies among the different Houses and this tension resonates strongly through the pages of the book. Most of them think they are all better than the other, and aren’t afraid to show just how supreme they are. Although most business is taken off screen, the mentioning of the promises of the warrior mages really made me curious, the Astaren, those guys are bad ass. They are all powerful and are the turning point in each battle. When I read the parts of House Dragon and their Astaren I was a bit awed. And you know the best part……! That is for yourself to find out but trust me you will like it. What’s makes this world so wonderful to read about is that the premise is a fantasy setting but with the different elements that you get introduced to, gunpowder guns only the Lawbringers may use, magic and the strong division of the Imperial City and the ruling Emperor adds some sort of oriental theme to it all, but mentionings of shamans does steer away from it. It’s hard to really point the setting of where the story takes place down to one direction. One thing that I am certain off is that we only have just glimpsed the tip of the iceberg of it all…
As for the story of Moon’s Artifice, like I mentioned in the part of the characters, the story initially starts off with several different points of view with but soon, due to a set of events storylines start to intermingle with each other and leading it all too one final showdown. I can understand that some people might experience this story to be difficult to understand since there are a lot of new things that you are introduced to but this is something that has to be done and for me there wasn’t an information dump at all, instead Tom Lloyd nicely spread out the dynamics of his story over the whole book, but you have to make sure that you don’t let you attention falter, else you will be definitely missing out on the best parts of the book. The pacing overall start of nicely and there are a few moments that allow you to catch your breath and recount all the events. Now the ending of the book, the last 100ish pages really thrown the story in a rapid, the big revealing have come to show and I was hoping the story wouldn’t fall into a drag and trust me it didn’t, Tom Lloyd keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Most of thing that you have come to learn about several characters and what they can do all come to show in full colors in the end and produce a very strong showdown, I can still clearly picture those scene, they are pretty great.
Just one last thing that I want to mention, besides the story of the investigation that is carried out by Narin to search for the bad guys behind the poison Moon’s Artifice, Tom Lloyd also highlights the bad guys themselves and how they are planning the downfall of the Empire. There was also a great interaction between the storyline of the good guys and the bad guys as you saw them both drawing up their plans and execute them and how when one plan was beaten by the opposition how they went about and changed their gameplan. Highlighting the other side can be tricky part but Tom Lloyd managed to pull this off pretty nice. Making the story that much better.
Moon’s Artifice is a very, very powerful first book in a new series. Tom Lloyd introduces you to a interesting new world that is dynamic to say the least. It’s brimming with new ideas and a lot of existing fantasy elements all resonate through the story to create a very one-of-a-kind feeling. The characters are just top material to read about, they are nicely fleshed out, diverse and each one if different. Furthermore Tom Lloyd writes his story with a certain confidence, his writing style is clear, addictive and utterly engaging, I got hooked and still am. The fighting scenes and magic battles in the book are very cool to read about and in here Tom Lloyd designs his own visions on how to show it and what is possible by it. I have glimpsed the first powerful Astaren and am eager to see more. Oh.. and I just recall that I forgot to mention. Gods. Yes Gods, there is a strong element of them in the book and some do make the occasional appearance, for me it is always tricky to introduces Gods as in some cases they are too much, but the sort of backdrop that you get acquainted to them in Moon’s Artifice was smooth. Moon’s Artifice is a true pleasure to read and I can think I can hear Tom Lloyd making a statement with this book for his fellow authors: beware! I am eager to read the second book in the series.