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The Alchemist of Souls, by Anne Lyle Book Review | SFReader.com
The Alchemist of Souls, by Anne Lyle Genre: Fantasy Publisher: Angry Robot Books Published: 2012 Review Posted: 8/12/2013 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
The Alchemist of Souls, by Anne Lyle
Book Review by SJ Higbee
Have you read this book?
I'd had Anne Lyle's historical fantasy debut on my radar for a while,
but when I got to meet her again at Fantasycon this year, I also picked
up her book and tucked into it on the journey home...
When a Tudor explorer 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 appointed as 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 his soul.
This debut novel is an intriguing alternative historical fantasy
adventure where Elizabeth I has married and produced two princes. The
Skraylings -- a mysterious and powerful New World race that is proposing
an alliance with England at a time when formidable interests are ranged
against the country raises the stakes in this involving tale of
political manoeuvring and personal ambition. There are three main
protagonists whose stories intertwine -- Mal, a mercenary fallen on hard
times; Ned, a scribe who works in the theatre and Coby, a girl posing as
a young man working as a tireman for the famous theatre group the
Sussex's men. Going for three protagonists is always something of a risk
-- I often find there is one character's storyline I skim in order to
get back to my favourite. It didn't happen in this case. All three
stories held me sufficiently to want to follow each one to the climactic
and satisfying conclusion.
What this isn't, is some rollicking swashbuckler. Lyle's London is too
gritty and full of menace -- in her attention to detail, I was at times
reminded of C.J. Sansom's depiction of Tudor London in his successful
Matthew Shardlake series. And although this is a fairly hefty read at
just over 500 pages, the book zipped along at a fair clip.
The heart of the story -- just what exactly the Skraylings represent and
how this is going to impact on all three main characters -- is a strong
story arc with plenty of narrative tension along with the period detail.
The only caveat I have is that perhaps Ned would have felt a bit more
tormented about the prospect of Hell due to his lifestyle and I wasn't
completely sure that Religion was important enough to all the
protagonists at the time when hundreds of people were willing to die and
kill for their beliefs. However, this one quibble didn't prevent me
from hugely enjoying this impressive debut and very much looking forward
to the sequel.
Click here to buy The Alchemist of Souls, by Anne Lyle on Amazon