Children of Artifice is the first book in a new series by Danie Ware. Ware’s last series a cyberpunk-or-is-it-fantasy about a rogue called Ecko that kept you guessing until the very end. Children of Artifice is a very different beast, it has a different tempo, sticks closer to fewer characters and whereas Ecko was set in a whole world, this story is set inside a city.
It’s a fascinating city though, living and breathing inside a considerable creator and with a whole nation afraid to leave it. This is a city that was summoned into being some 10,000 years ago by entities known as The Builders. They’re gone now, and all that remains are those who were once their servants.
There’s magic in the Children of Artifice but understated. This isn’t a four colour fantasy with fireballs. Instead, I imagine this novel would be coloured in muted hues while the background of magic whispered like the neighbour’s melodies only just sounding through thick stone walls.
If this appears like an ideal setting to place a roleplaying game, you’re probably not the only who thinks that. Geek Native interviewed Danie when the book came back, and she talked about how writing and roleplaying overlap. In fact, a core protagonist, the enematic Proteus, was a player character in a tabletop game once.
I suppose, despite all the politics and magic, Children of Artifice is a love story at its heart. A love between two very different male characters. There are other love stories in the book too, heterosexual romances get their mentions, familial love and the love of status and power.
There’s a challenge any author takes on with a novel like Children of Artifice; the creation of an intriguing and mysterious world but then a focus on the emotions and relationships of a few characters. Instinctively, I want to learn more about the world. I want to explore, and these characters are the only vehicles I have. Too much navel gazing from the heroes and villains of the story can be frustrating.
The solution to the challenge is to craft compelling characters, those whose emotional journeys are powerful enough to take you along for the ride. And that’s what Ware manages with Children of Artifice. You find yourself caring for Calph while also urging him to get over his trauma and find a way to push forward. You find yourself intrigued by Proteus, and in stark contrast to Calph, worried that this character’s abundance of self-confidence might be misplaced.
While Children of Artifice keeps a focus on the central romance and the events swirling around that I found the secondary characters to be equally compelling. Calph’s family are entirely believable and, I think, their motivations wholly justified. There’s a hint of what comes next at the end of this story, a teaser for book two and every reason to be hopeful that some of these supporting characters will get more time in the limelight.
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I described Ecko as a series that kept you guessing to the very end. Children of Artifice does not. I’m not saying the story lacks surprises and plot twists. I am saying that that the climatic ending approaches like a gathering storm. You can see the dark clouds growing. You can feel the wind beginning to pick up, and the heroes have about much chance of stopping the tempest as a sailor on the docks shaking his fist at the horizon does.
But sometimes storms can be cleansing, and it feels like the sequel has a whole new horizon to explore.