Saturday 9 February 2013

Book Review- The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

Title: The Alchemist of Souls
 Author:  Anne Lyle
Series:  Night’s Masque #1
Published:  27 March 2012 by Angry Robot
Length: 572 pages
Warnings:  violence, semi graphic sex, 15+
Source: publishers Angry Robot Army
Summary : 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 his soul.

Review: in this alternative history where the Virgin Queen has children,  Maliverny Catlyn, aka Mal, is a swordsman. Who, one day, is charged with protecting the ambassador of the Skraylings, some non-human creatures from Viking lore. Being desparate for money to pay for the treatment of his brother Sandy, he takes the jo, but soon finds out there’s more to protecting the ambassador than keeping him from killers. Along the way, Mal gets involved with the Suffolk’s Men, one of the companies performing for the ambassador, with his frend Ned Faulkner, his lover Gabriel Parrish, and Coby Hendricks, a girl in disguise as a boy.
Alternate history that doesn’t involve Victorians isn’t my normal fare, but I loved the Tudor period before and this is an excellent addition to the collection. We go to all sides of Tudor London, from the rough pubs and market, to a posh boat ride on the Thames, to  Bedlam, and the tone is captured well.

All the characters! My favourite by far was Cody-she’s independent, thinks on her feet, and clever. Close seconds and thirds were Mal and the ambassador Kiiren, the first of whom is your typical handsome, rogue swordsman and the other who has more to him than you’d first think. There’s a lot of characters in Alchemist of Souls, and it does get a bit confusing at times.

The Skraylings are a really interesting race-not your typical fantasy aliens. Through Mal’s eyes, we learn and like them more. The soul side aspect is cool.
It’s a bit slow. I get that it’s all brewing and things will come, but there were parts where I just wanted something else to happen. Finally, at the three quarter mark (and with it being on a kindle, it seems longer and further away than I’d probably find if I had the print copy) there’s a big thing and everything happens.

Anne gives us some subtle messages on gender and sexuality in the Tudor period. It’s written in fairly close third person, and when talking about Coby, there’s a nice comment about how “if her sisters knew how freeing trousers were, they’d never wear skirts again.” Coby definitely gets around a lot, and I really liked her. Also, it’s nice having openly LGBT characters, where it’s not the focus. You will find a little conflict in this area, but bonus points for putting it at a time where homosexuality was a crime. Otherwise, Ned and Gabriel are treated just as another relationship.

Anne’s writing style is beautifully descriptive. It’s  all in third person, but each section follows one character closely, letting you see things from their point of view, for example Coby being referred to as Coby, Jacob or Hendricks depending on who’s looking.
Despite the dark happenings of the book, what with soul hopping and Bedlam and plots, there’s some lighter moments too. Pretty much anything involving Mal and Coby alone. And I was shipping Mal and Coby so hard throughout.  

Overall:  Strength 4 tea to book with rich characters and tone. I’ll definitely read on in the series!


  1. Great review, Nina! I remember enjoying this book just as much as you did! ;) And Coby was my favorite too. Now if I could only read book #2 with her adventures in Venice, I'll be happy... ;)

    1. I think book 2's out... Venice? Ooh-sounds cool.

    2. Yep, Book 2, "The Merchant of Dreams", is out already, and Book 3, "The Prince of Lies", is scheduled for publication this November (just handed it in to my editor the other day).

      Thanks for the review, Nina - much appreciated!

  2. This one sounds very good! And I love the cover :) I think I'll check this one out soon. Thanks for sharing your great review.

    Haul - Mel@thedailyprophecy.


Thanks for taking time to read this!
Comments are much loved.
Nina xxx

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