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The Alchemist of Souls: Night's Masque, Volume 1 Mass Market Paperback – March 27, 2012

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The Alchemist of Souls: Night's Masque, Volume 1 + The Merchant of Dreams: Night's Masque, Volume 2 + The Prince of Lies: Night's Masque, Volume 3
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Product Details

  • Series: Night's Masque (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Angry Robot (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857662147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857662149
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 4.2 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Nominee for the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer

"Impressive... With an effective mix of espionage, backstage drama, and mystery, Lyle provides compelling drama in an intriguing setting." - Publishers Weekly

"In her debut, The Alchemist of Souls, Anne Lyle creates an alternate Elizabethan England done right. A world where history meets fantasy in the streets, and where neither emerges unscathed. With a twisting plot, endearing characters, fast-paced action, and truly unique and alien "fey", Lyle steps up and gives notice to the genre. No wilting faerie queens and tortured knights here: this is how historical fantasy gets dirty. A great first installment in a promising new series." - Douglas Hulick, acclaimed author of Among Thieves

"Anne Lyle's Alchemist of Souls teems with intrigue and magic worthy of the Bard himself, all set against the backdrop of Elizabethan London. The attention to historical detail brings the time and place alive and peoples it with characters I could instantly empathize with. An outstanding debut!" - Lynn Flewelling

“In her terrific debut novel, Anne Lyle conjures up a magical Elizabethan England of seedy glamour, long shadows, pulsating romance and heart-stopping adventure. The Alchemist of Souls is the calling card of a great new talent in the fantasy field.” - Mark Chadbourn

“Anne Lyle’s fluid writing brilliantly evokes the heady and gritty atmosphere of her alternate Shakespearean London – from the day-to-day life of theatre troupes to the pomp of official ceremonies.” - Aliette de Bodard

About the Author

Anne Lyle is a website developer and debut author from Nottinghamshire, England. She has an active website, attends UK conventions and is a dedicated Twitter user. The author lives in Cambridge, UK.

More About the Author

Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as "Robin Hood Country", and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead.

It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can't take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends practically every waking hour writing - or at least planning - fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in imaginary pasts or parallel worlds.

Her particular obsession is Elizabethan England, so it helps that she now lives in a city full of medieval and Tudor buildings where the cattle browse on the common land much as they did in Shakespeare's London. She prides herself on being able to ride a horse, sew a sampler and cut a quill pen but hasn't the least idea how to drive one of those new-fangled automobile thingies.

Paradoxically she is a big fan of 21st century technology, being a Mac geek and full-time web developer. Well, it's the nearest thing you can get to magic in our own universe...

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Justin Landon on March 27, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Before I became re-enamored with fantasy, I was an avid reader of historical fiction (or as I like to call it -- fantasy for people who don't want to be seen reading fantasy). I read Shogun (Clavell), Pride of Carthage (Durham), Musashi (Yoshikawa), Gates of Fire (Pressfield), and their ilk. It's exciting to me now when I come across a fantasy concoction that blends that historical sensibility with the speculative. Anne Lyle's debut novel is just that kind of brew. Set in historical Elizabethan England, Alchemist of Souls shows what might have happened if the Virgin Queen had children, secured her rule, and made an alliance with a heretofore undiscovered alien race from the New World.

Lyle's protagonist is Mal Catlyn, a down on his luck swordsman with a checkered past and an unfortunate family connection to Catholicism. The skraylings, a new race from the New World, have been allied with England for a generation, but an ambassador had yet to treat with the Queen. With word of the first skrayling delegation, Mal is hand picked, rather unexpectedly, to serve as bodyguard during the controversial visit. Assassination attempts are the least of his concern as layers of espionage and political jockeying begin to pull him in unexpected directions.

Along with the intrigue, Lyle sets the stage with a tournament of stage performances in honor of the ambassador's visit. Put on by the three most esteemed theater troops in London, the tournament becomes a set piece for the larger story. The theater sections are told mostly through the eyes of Coby, a young woman hiding behind men's clothing, and connects to Mal's thread through his friend Ned, a scribe with a penchant for theater men. Between the three of them they'll be asked to prevent a conspiracy at the core of the monarchy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Carebare on October 26, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Overall not a bad story. I got through the first third fine, but then sort of lost interest and skipped through the rest. If you are truly out of other things to read, I recommend to give it a try but don't hold great expectations. I have to agree with the other reviewers on the following points:

1. The ending was a let down. It left me a bit confused.
2. The reader only gets to superficially know the characters. I wanted to like the main character, but I ended up not really caring about him or the rest of them. And looking back at how Mal is described or portrayed, doesn't really jive with some of his actions and age. Like why did a loyal and militarily-obedient Mal run away from the law at the beginning, and ditch his friend?
3. The novel has a lot of words but could use more substance. I ended up skimming through a lot of the book. I feel like a lot of avenues didn't really get explored, like Mal's relationships with the ambassador or love interest. It didn't live up to the potential.
4. The plot wasn't all that original for me. The concept reminded me a lot of CJ Cherryh's Foreigner books. CJ Cherryh has A LOT more words to sift through, but also more depth and substance.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 5, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Imagine if the New World explorers brought back something even more amazing in their journeys: not just chocolate or tobacco, but a different race of humans. In this fantasy version of history, Skraylings are a race of creatures encountered in the expanding British Empire, and the world will never be the same. Mal Catlyn is the star of this book, and has found himself as a bodyguard to the Skrayling Ambassador. His life becomes even more complected as assassination threats are not his only worry.
The book does a great job of setting the environment and making it really feel like sixteenth century London. I loved how the book feels very original in its concepts. It is hard to do historical fantasy like this, but to take it and make it your own is an accomplishment. The book does start off very slow, but eventually picks up the pace for an climatic ending. The lack of the excitement at the beginning really hurts the book. The story is very character driven, and as the story progressed, I found myself more emotionally tied to these characters. With a deep understanding of history and a perfect blend of magic, this series is off to a great start.

*Originally published for San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review*
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By TJ Gamache on January 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An interesting but not character-driven story. The writing is strong overall, but is hurt by the focus on gender and sexual confusion. There are several moments when such sexual themes pull the reader entirely out of the story.
Anne Lyle shows very good to great ability, but would benefit from a stronger, unbiased editor. Despite being a milieu novel, there is a surprising lack of character development and pace. Perhaps a stronger hand at the editing wheel would elevate Anne's significant gift for writing to a higher tier.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeryn Coldfire on June 9, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In ALCHEMIST OF SOULS, Anne Lyle introduces us to an alternate Elizabethan England in which explorers have discovered Skraylings, an alien species, living in the New World instead of Native Americans. These Skraylings hold magics the humans can only dream of, and over the course of the book we realize these creatures' magic allows them to do even more than the humans first imagined.

Our story is told through the viewpoint of three primary characters -- Maliverny Catlyn, a swordsman assigned to serve as bodyguard to the newly-arrived Skrayling ambassador; Coby, a young woman pretending to be a boy so she can work for a London Theatre; and Ned, a homosexual friend of Mal's. Normally I wouldn't mention Ned's homosexuality in such a manner, as though it's his defining characteristic, but I'm not sure there he has a single scene in the book in which his homosexuality is not referenced. He proves to be a loyal and courageous character, but these qualities are almost entirely overwhelmed by regular mentions and examples of his homosexuality.

While Catlyn seems as though he would be the primary character in this book (he's even featured on the book's outstanding cover), it's Coby who often seems the most well-drawn character of the trio. She's clever and courageous as well, and after she falls in love with Mal becomes his greatest ally.

Mal, however, is a bit disappointing, as we don't get a really good feel for him outside of his desire to protect his brother, and we spend surprisingly little time with him considering that he's theoretically the chief protagonist.

The Victorian England setting is outstanding and well-researched, and Lyle writes very well, both in her prose and dialogue.
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