Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Review: The Alchemist of Souls (Night’s Masque) by Anne Lyle

Slight departure for me, as this is fantasy, but set in an alternate history of England. It’s the latter day Elizabethan era (the first one, not now), but in this world Elizabeth I got married and has two children (grown men in the book). The New World has been discovered, but it’s also home to the non-human skraylings, who are allies of mighty Blighty against those dastardly Europeans.

The book revolves around the two characters of Maliverny Catlyn (a fairly well-born chap down on his luck) and Coby, a backstage worker for a theatre troupe who happens to be a young lady masquerading as a chap.

The skraylings are sending an ambassador to England, and pick out Catlyn as his human bodyguard. A competition is to be held between various acting groups with the new ambassador as judge, but Catlyn has his work cut out keeping the skrayling from harm from his numerous enemies.

I’m not very knowledgeable about the Elizabethan era but it certainly sounds like the author has done her homework. There are plenty of terms that are not common today, but the meaning is generally clear from the context. That sort of thing, and a certain level of detail, helps immerse the reader in the world.

I think a little more pace early on and some more bloodshed would be an improvement, but I did like the way the ending occurred and the way the storyline sped up as the story's climax was neared.

The cast is relatively small but this does help give them space to be three-dimensional in their own right and to have developing relationships with one another (which is a particular strength of the story). The book is a stand-alone work, but seems likely to be part of a continuing narrative (like Tales of the Ketty Jay or Space Captain Smith), and I think we’ll see Mal and Coby again.


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