The Alchemist of Souls
Author: Anne Lyle
Publisher: Angry Robot
Page count/Size: 480 pp
Release date: 5th April 2012
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin
Set in London during the Elizabethan period, this fantasy novel by Anne Lyle finds roguish Mal Catlyn hired by Walsingham to protect Kirren, a Skrayling ambassador.
The skraylings are a foreign nationality with their own culture and language, who look very much less than human. And Mal’s history with the skraylings makes it one hell of a tricky assignment.
Next we meet Coby, a strong female character, posing as a boy working in the theatre in order to earn a living in the hostel environs of London. We also meet Ned, Mal’s best friend who is having a love affair with actor Gabriel Parrish.
As al tries to uncover treason and protect his skrayling companion, he finds himself inexplicably drawn to Kirren the ambassador and his views begin to change.
This alternate history is atmospheric, fun and boasts colloquial dialogue that moves the novel along at a swift pace. As well as being thoroughly researched, the novel uses vivid descriptions to add life and realism to the period setting. My favourite sentence simply has to be about the local pub, which “was as busy as a brothel mattress and twice as pungent”. Brilliant!
Delivering on pace (even a game of tennis comes across exciting), Lyle also manages to examine xenophobia and homophobia particular of the time playing heavily with gender issues. The sights and scents of Elizabethan London are both vibrant and rich, and the plot delivers on plenty of twists and turns as well as political intrigue.
At the end of the book we have hints of a France bound sequel and Angry Robot have confirmed a second book in the Masques series. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what happens to Mal and Coby next.