This is the first book in the second series by Tom Lloyd, author of the stunning Twilight Reign series. Moon’s Artifice is certainly different than Lloyd’s previous work. While Twilight Reign was firmly based in the epic fantasy category, Moon’s Artifice is a bit harder to define. Sword and sorcery? Almost. Epic fantasy? Has that feel to it. Detective crime novel? Yes, kind of. It’s a good mixture of quite a few genres, and as someone who doesn’t honestly care about strict subgenre definitions it suits me fine.
Central to the world is the caste and House system the Empire lives by. The Imperial City is ruled by the house of the Emperor, House Sun. Each of the big houses in the Empire has their own district, in which their lesser houses are welcome. The population is also divided into the nobles and the peasants, and with civilization living tightly within this system and people being tattooed by law with their caste and house marks, escaping to a higher station seems impossible.
Narin is an Investigator, born to the lower caste and working to become a Lawbringer, the enforcers the Empire’s law on the populace. He does have a few secrets, the biggest one being an affair with a noblewoman, which is potentially life threatening to Narin, seeing as sleeping with someone elses wife is really not that a good idea, especially if said someone is noble born. You’d think Narin has enough to worry about, then the gods drop a huge problem at his feet, and it has Empire shattering consequences.
The Gods. The biggest secret that the Emperor’s family has is ascension. Mortals can become gods, if they are perfect in one part of their life. Lord Shield, Lawbringer, Pity, Duellist etc has proven their worth and been ascended to godhood. The fun thing about this pantheon is that they like to get their noses stuck into mortal affairs every now and then. And when a god notices you, it’s too late to run away. Along with the gods there are also demons who has influence on the world. I get the feeling that the gods and demons story has quite a lot more depth to it, and that should be fun exploring in later novels.
At least Narin isn’t alone in his struggles. His best friend, Enchei, supports him throughout the book. Enchei is not just there as support of filler, he has his own secret history and dark past. His immediate superior is Lawbringer Rhe, the most respected of his order with a strict sense of the law and right or wrong. I loved Rhe for his unblinking and uncompromising service to the law and empire he’s sworn to. It almost cost him his life, but he was willing to take that sacrifice to preserve the integrity of the Lawbringers, and that is heroic. Irato is a dark horse character, seeing as his actions influences the majority of the early parts in this book. He is a product of the poison, and shows clearly the dangers it poses to humanity and to the empire. Kesh is my favourite though. A girl who started out terrified, then mad, bent on revenge and at last she develops into a major player in the book. She is a damn great character, doing what she feels she must do to reach their goals. She is tenacious, bold and always ready for a brawl, even if the odds are stacked against her.
The world Lloyd built is intricate and brilliant. He has the ability to drag the gods and demons into the story, not as omnipotent beings, but more as troublemakers trying to get a head start on their fellows. Since the gods are ascended humans, seeing this human trait of selfishness in them makes them quite a lot more interesting than if they were a beard in the sky or hurling lightning at humanity.
Narin is always one step behind the conspiracy. He’s trying to catch up to a group of people who’ve had decades to plot and set things into motion. There is a sense of desperation throughout the novel as they try to unravel the mystery, and it’s mainly through hard work that they manage to get the breaks they need to bother the conspirators. No real lucky breaks are to be had to help them along, which I liked as realistic.
I loved this book. It’s fast paced, mysterious, interesting and the characters are brilliant. It’s an amazing start to a brilliant new series.