Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

Title: The Alchemist of Souls (Night's Masque #1)
Author: Anne Lyle
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication date: April 2012
Genre: Fantasy
Source: won (from Book Chick City)

Description: When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods – and a skrayling ambassador – to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?
Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally – and Mal Catlyn his soul.

My thoughts: I won & read this book over the summer, and loved it a lot. I noticed it on a shelf in a local bookstore today, and realised I never reviewed it. Anne Lyle's 'The Alchemist of Souls' is a rich alternate history set in Tudor London. These strange creatures, skraylings, live in an encampment in London somewhat separated from the rest of the population. Many people are afraid of them, and sometimes they are hunted. Through an unfortunate series of circumstances, Mal becomes bodyguard to the skrayling ambassador. Also involved is Coby, a girl disguising herself as a boy so she can work with a theatre troupe, and becomes tangled with Mal when he asks her to teach him about the skrayling customs she's familiar with.

This is a proper fantasy novel with the stories of a variety of characters intersecting and tangling with each other. I really enjoyed reading about the various threads coming together. I also like how Ms Lyle incorporated the Catholic vs Protestant conflict into the story alongside the politics with the skraylings. There were so many interesting bits that it's hard to describe the story much more without giving away bits that are much more fun to find out by yourself. It got me back into reading epic fantasy, which I'd had a bit of a break from, and I loved the intricacies of the plot and the world building. There were one or two scenes that I had to scan over because they were a little icky, a little too graphic for me, but I don't think they were unnecessary - they were important to get across the strong emotions of the characters who witnessed/experienced those things.

An intricate story of political intrigue in an alternate Tudor London, Anne Lyle's "The Alchemist Of Souls" is an engaging fantasy novel. I give it 8 stars.


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