The Alchemist of Souls. Book Review

THE ALCHEMIST OF SOULS (NIGHT’S MASQUE VOLUME 1) by Anne Lyle

Angry Robot, kindle edition, £4.49

Reviewed by Carl Barker

Upon reading the blurb for Alchemist Of Souls, one might be forgiven for initially attempting to directly compare it with the first of Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court Series. Certainly, it’s true that both books revolve around a common theme – that of otherworldly creatures (here the Skraylings) inhabiting an alternate Elizabethan England – but to so pigeonhole Anne Lyle’s debut novel as ‘more of the same’ would be to do it a grave disservice. This first volume in a planned series is an entirely different animal, in that it chooses to downplay the fantastic side of its tale to an almost unnoticeable level, choosing instead to concentrate on embellishing the more recognisable trappings of history with an attention to detail and characterisation.

The three central characters of Mal, Coby and Ned are each well fleshed out in their own right, allowing the story to lightly dance between several different viewpoints as what begins as an absorbing drama slowly evolves into something more akin to a whodunnit by the end of the book. Many of the more well-known characters from the period are introduced at various points in the book, as down-on-his-luck swordsman Mal is recruited into the service of Sir Francis Walsingham and made bodyguard to the Skrayling Ambassador. Forced to repel both physical and political threats from a variety of sources, Mal must uncover the secrets of the Skraylings whilst at the same time attempting to unravel both his own past and that of his twin brother Sandy.

An outstanding debut and Lyle is certainly a name to watch for the future. I thoroughly enjoyed it.