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Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Moon's Artifice" by Tom Lloyd (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


"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."

Moon's Artifice offers a banal story and unremarkable world-building alternating with great moments that kept me reading till the end though in small chunks across a few months; by the end though I could only shrug and say "who cares about this" and move on.

Situated somewhere at the intersection of sophisticated metropolis, mystery plot, hints of world changing stuff and very interesting back story, all with a combination of some technology - gun powder restricted to aristocracy - , mind bending "viruses", demons, gods - or at least super powerful immortal humans - and magic, with a culture resembling the western authors image of "medieval" imperial Japan led by great houses and with a ceremonial but relatively powerless Emperor, though with a dash of the vastness and imagery of China, again as seen by western authors obviously, Moon's Artifice sounded like a great potential read but the execution is mediocre.

Maybe this last word is misplaced as the book has a lot of intense great moments that fulfill its promise, but they are embedded in a ton of conventional junk to raise the page count at "epic mid list author" 400+ levels and I only shudder how this volume would have looked were the author to be an A list allowed to do 600+ pages - or maybe this is why the author is not an A list one as he simply doesn't have the narrative power to carry an ambitious story as proven here.

A 300 page distilled version of this book keeping the action and mystery as main focus within a tight "mystery genre" like package could have been great - the heroes are in the same kind of danger time after time after time - or maybe better world building that would have brought the universe of the story to true life and justify the page count interspersed with more than hints from the intriguing history of the created universe. 

However ultimately I think that the overall "meh" feeling about the book comes from the characters - the naive Narin who is the traditional picaresque hero stumbling in out of great dangers, but who lacks the "salt and pepper" mixture of arrogance, silliness and good intentions of the best such in literature, being boringly earnest, combined with no-memory ninja - goshe - Irato and "old sensei" Enchei of many secrets and talents, both straight out of the cliche book and finally slum fisher-girl Kesh who somehow raises to the occasion once her family gets caught in the crossfire and becomes a super-heroine carrying the day, like in contemporary Disney fare...

Everything you want to know about the book is summarized in the blurb and the observations above:

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.
 
Overall, a combination of multiple 5 star moments in a marginally 2 star package and it's very hard seeing me reading more in the series though I may try if a copy comes to hand, but that will be far from the buy on publication excitement Moon's Artifice generated.

2 comments:

az060693 said...

The scenes about Narin falling in love were great but never really got expanded on. The book also started off strong, but afterwards, just turned into boring monotony.

Liviu said...

agree that the great potential was mostly wasted and your comment accurately reflects some of the whys; personally I think the main reason is that the characters do not work, lack that "spark" that makes a book come alive

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