Children of Artifice is one of those novels where, from the very beginning, it is hard to know what to expect (and I mean that in a good way!).
Set within an enigmatic second world, where humans live within a secular city-state nestled within a gigantic crater, knowing nothing of what exists beyond the impassable ridge which surrounds them except for that they were placed there by a mythic race of mysterious beings known as the ‘Builders’ long ago, one could at first suspect that it is going to be a YA thriller of intrigue and discovery. The age it is set in appears to be historic, and yet the rich amalgam of technology and alchemy which sets the scene cannot be pinned to any particular age, and there is also magic. It has elements of fantasy and science fiction, but they have been blended together seamlessly and do not jar.
The author has described it as an ‘urban fairy tale’, which is very fitting. It does have that feel of old and new. It is quite gritty at times, and yet full of beautiful moments.
I do not want to say too much about the plot, because it is a novel which surprises you at every turn and right up until the very end, it is impossible to predict what is going to happen because there are always several paths it could take. So I will speak instead of its other features.
One of its focal themes is family – both the ones people are born with and ones they create for themselves – and the relationships between the characters are filled with nuances which are tender, tragic, uplifting and everything in between. Society – how it controls those within it, and the many ways (positive and negative) which people rebel – is another central theme, and there are some interesting parallels which can be drawn with our present day. It has a wonderfully crafted, vivid setting, and complex, believable characters that come alive from the pages and leave a lasting impression.
I am particularly pleased with this novel’s diverse voices. Both same-sex and heteronormative romances take place during the story but none are presented as being particularly shocking and the characters are never given labels, and yet it still examines issues of identity, prejudice, and sexual fluidity which are relatable to a modern day reader. It is refreshing to read a novel written in such a way.
Children of Artifice has a fantastic story, one I would recommend to readers of any genre and age. It conjures beautiful imagery and puts you in a state of living dream, taking you on an emotional journey which stays with you. I am looking forward to the sequel.