BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the Imperial City, the heart of the Empire, a lowly investigator gets entangled in a conflict between Noble Houses and the Gods themselves.
PROS: Rich, deep world building (almost to excess); dverse set of protagonists; excellent action scenes.
CONS: A concordance would have helped illuminate the wave of information thrown at the reader; some character elements out of central casting.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining and strong entry into a new fantasy universe that reads like the fantasy equivalent of a technothriller.
In Moon’s Artifice, the first in a new series by Tom Lloyd, the scheming of Houses of the Empire, the meddling of Gods and Demons, and a tangled set of plots and secrets ensnares Narin, an investigator for the Emperor’s forces. Narin’s career has been slowly on the rise and he has been building a name for himself. But he has secrets — like the fact that he is having a secret love affair with a noble lady of House Wyvern, and, to boot, the wife of a House Wyvern noble whose life he saved.
Thus, when a fleeing assassin whose memory has been wiped lands at his feet, Narin is already up to his neck, and things do not get any easier. His old friend and mentor is far more than he appears, the Gods themselves have plans and commands for Narin, and the Empire itself is at best rather wobbly. A rash of poisonings and deaths might be the spark needed to set off that conflagration, even if the plotters plans are even more ambitious than that.
Moon’s Artifice is part of a recent spate of novels which seem to be bridging sword and sorcery with more epic forms of secondary world fantasy. While the stakes for the novel are relatively high, the style and choices of viewpoints are those of a gritty sword and sorcery novel. Narin is a commoner (even with his ambitions to become a Lawbringer) and the other misfits that form the core of protagonists are not movers and shakers; they are embedded in the lower echelons of the society and the physical matrix of the Imperial City.
That city itself is an excellent and inventive creation. Its geographical layout runs along parallel tracks, leading to a set of distinct locations and architecture. From the Imperial Districts to the Dock area, the city’s topography varies, often radically. In addition, the political organization of the various Houses means that these districts have a social dimension to them, and those boundaries are as important as the boundaries between physical areas of the city. The impression, also, is that for all of the city that we see, it is only a part of the wonderful, larger entirety the author has in mind.
Like any good sword and sorcery novel, the novel is full of “small bore” action. Rooftop chases, ambushes in city streets, a base under siege, and a hunt-and-seek in a tangled warren are only a sampling of what is to be found in the novel. Moon’s Artifice reads like the fantasy equivalent of a technothriller. Lloyd has also taken the “action defines character” mantra to heart, as the sequences illuminate and illustrate the various protagonists, and in more than one case, offers important reveals about them.
I’d have liked a concordance of the rich and varied world that Lloyd has started to build here. The numerous noble houses, with sub houses, internal factions and complicated interrelationships is a lot of infodumping that would have been allevieated by having some reference. A map of the beautifully intricate city, would also be appreciated. More than these, though, I’d like to read much more about this world and these characters