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

3.9 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Night's Masque Series

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Editorial Reviews

Review

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.
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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: 4.2 x 1.4 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #318,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Swashbuckling, sure, if you parse out your action with the miserly hand of lesser Gothic work. The ideas populating this alternate Elizabethan universe are interesting, but sparsely explored. The character of Elizabeth herself puts in a brief appearance, evidently for no reason other than to be different from the historical figure. The characters could be interesting if we got to see them develop a bit more, but Mal, Ned, Jacob and Gabe all come out in the end essentially the characters they started as, with the grand conspiracy they're fighting no more lucid than it began. Strikes me as the first in a series where the author is holding back a bit too much for future instalments & I am glad to be done with it.
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I love Elizabethan, Renaissance, and Shakespearean stories, and this novel did not disappoint! I liked the alternate history and the integration of magic into the story, along with well-researched historical details. The skraylings were an interesting culture to add into historical London. I also thought it was interesting that the troupe of actors featured in the novel was not the one with Shakespeare, but a rival company. Since so many stories are written about Shakespeare I liked the variety.

And of course, I'm a sucker for any story where a girl disguises herself as a boy, so naturally Coby was my favorite character. I thought the romance between her and Mal grew naturally and added an extra dimension to the story. Between their growing attraction, and Mal's concern for his brother Sandy, the character relationships were quite deep and carried the main force of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I am definitely going to read the next part of the series!
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4.5 Stars! The Alchemist of Souls is a wonderfully original, creative work of alternate history and fantasy. I am so pleased to have discovered it.

England, during the time of Elizabeth I, is introduced to Skralings. These beings from the new world are intelligent and strong. England wants them for allies, so when the Skraling ambassador arrives for a visit, Mal Catlyn is assigned as his bodyguard. For personal reasons, Mal is not at all keen on the job. But he needs the money. And really, it's pretty much an order, not a request. The question is 'Why?'

Part of the ambassador's duties in England are judging plays in a contest of three theatre companies. This is how we are introduced to Jacob (Coby) Hendricks. Coby is a young woman masquerading as a boy who works behind the scenes for one of the theatre companies. Coby is smart, hardworking, forever afraid of being discovered, and yet wishing she could just be a girl.

Other reviewers describe Coby as a secondary character, but to me her role was just as important as the role of Mal Catlyn. And despite her youth, her character was as much the heroine as Mal was the hero. Throughout the book, Mal's and Coby's lives intertwine in many ways leading up to a climactic rescue from the bad guys!

There is a lot going on in this novel. There are the Skralings, who have beliefs which do not agree with England's Protestant state religion. As a reader of historical fiction, I often experience settings where religion is governed fiercely. This makes me appreciate separation of church and state! The activity surrounding the play production is a large part of the story, which I really enjoyed. Politics and intrigue loom throughout the tale, making for a complex and fascinating read.

I hope to learn more about the Skralings in the next installment. Luckily, this is not a new series, so I can download The Merchant of Dreams today! I say again, I am so glad I discovered this series!
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