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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intricate AU historical fantasy thriller
It's the Elizabethan era, but not as we know it. Queen Elizabeth's mourning the death of her husband Robert Dudley but takes comfort in her sons Prince Robert (who effectively rules as regent) and the dashing Prince Arthur while the explorers of the New World found it inhabited by strange creatures called skraylings who are keen on trade.

Mal Catlyn is a...
Published 20 months ago by I Read, Therefore I Blog

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
I love a new author and one that brings mystery, intrigue as well as a fantasy flavour is usually one that I can't wait to get started on. Here, Anne brings Nordic myth alongside Elizabethan to life in this no holds barred twisted tail where the price of freedom may be a war that can ill be afforded. Its cleverly plotted, the author brings the time period to life and...
Published on 28 April 2012 by Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intricate AU historical fantasy thriller, 28 April 2013
This review is from: The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) (Paperback)
It's the Elizabethan era, but not as we know it. Queen Elizabeth's mourning the death of her husband Robert Dudley but takes comfort in her sons Prince Robert (who effectively rules as regent) and the dashing Prince Arthur while the explorers of the New World found it inhabited by strange creatures called skraylings who are keen on trade.

Mal Catlyn is a swordsman struggling to find the money needed to keep his twin brother Sandy comfortable in Bedlam. His fortunes improve when he's summoned to court and told that a visiting skrayling ambassador called Kiiren has asked for Mal to be his bodyguard. Although Mal doesn't understand how the skraylings know of him, he agrees to the commission only to find himself drawn into the machinations of the spymaster Walsingham as England seeks to improve relations with the skraylings and thereby improve their international position.

But as his relationship with Kiiren develops, Mal, learns that the skraylings have their own reasons for visiting England and that their interest in Mal stems from an event that Mal would rather forget ...

Anne Lyle's debut novel (the first in a trilogy) is an intricately plotted AU historical fantasy thriller that combines authentic period detail, a refreshing approach to sexuality and gender-bending characters filled with daring-do.

Based on a real historical person, Lyle fleshes out Mal's character and background to interesting effect but the use of third person narration does make it a little difficult to fully connect with him or his plight - mainly because certain key events in his life are kept vague until the final quarter of the book. I enjoyed his relationship with the brilliant but mentally ill Sandy and I found the scenes in Bedlam - with its mendacious "carers" who subject patients to the mockery of paying visitors - to be the most touching. There are hints of bisexuality, with Mal sharing a bed with actor Ned but also developing a relationship with Coby, a Dutch girl who's disguised herself as a boy to work backstage for a theatre company.

I enjoyed the way Lyle develops the Norse legend of skraylings and the idea of magic being advanced technology is explored to good effect. I also enjoyed Lyle's alternate Elizabethan court, which feels plausible and claustrophobic as factions compete for influence.

All in all it's a solid first novel and I look forward to reading the next one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent First Novel., 4 Sep 2013
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I have seen this referred to as an alternate reality book, and although I can see why, for me at least that is not entirely true. An alternate reality is one where a simple diversion has changed the outcome of events - in this case Elizabeth I getting married and having legitimate heirs, but there are extraneous anomalies that make this more a fantasy, in short the skraylings.

This, of course does not make it a bad book, in fact it adds to it a thousand fold. The decision to set the story in a different time than the normal middle ages gives it a freshness that might sometimes be lacking, while the skraylings give the world a more unearthly feel, an alien presence that is different to may other fantasy standards.

The book itself is set in and around London, at a time when a long serving monarch has gone into semi-seclusion following the death of a beloved husband, echoes perhaps of our worlds Queen Victoria. It is a time of sweeping change, with the faith of the country being unsettled as England has been torn from the Catholicism of Rome by Henry VIII and vacillated one way and then the other by succesive monarchs; the world itself is opening up with the discovery and advancement toward the New World, but it is not just the native Americans that have been found...

The story is well told, with small twists coming throughout and it took me a while to see which way the story was going to go, which is a good thing. The characters are well drawn and enjoyable, and not once did I get frustrated with them.

Lyle has imbued her version of Elizabethan London with enough depth that it feels real, and you get to live the life quite nicely, with throw away lines about fleas in clothes and toilets being emptied into streets. There are twists and turns as the plot develops, but not too much as to bog the reader down, so in all we get a good story, with good characters and it is well written.

Enough to warrant a read of the sequel.

As this is a first novel it bodes well for future publications.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, well-written historical fantasy, 18 Feb 2013
This review is from: The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) (Paperback)
I like me a bit of historical fantasy and was pleased to discover that this one is well-written and very entertaining. Elizabethan London is a popular setting, and here it felt authentic but also original as the author has taken a few (obvious and intentional) liberties with history. This is not a secret history with the supernatural pulling the strings behind the scenes (not that I have any problem with such stories, as you can tell from my attitude to the work of Tim Powers). In this book the New World proved to be home not just to other races of human but to a non-human, intelligent species called Skraylings. In post-Reformation England there are mixed attitudes to the Skraylings, their magical wares and mysterious ways. There are those who think them demons or fairies, while others see them as powerful and useful allies. Thrown into the middle of all this is our Hero Mal Catlyn, an impoverished gentleman who is appointed bodyguard to the Skrayling Ambassador.

It's the characters that really make this book such a joy to read. They're all rounded and fun to read about, each with their own perspective and voice, but I don;t want to give too much away. The relationships between them -both good and bad- feel genuine. Much of the action is set around a theatre company preparing for a competition, and it is in this environment that the characters are freer to pursue their desires than they would be in other parts of late-Tudor society.

The plot is well paced, with danger thrown at Mal and his friends fairly regularly as mysteries crop up and secrets are gradually revealed. There isn't a particular character who acts as an investigator, different things happen to each character, given the audience a wider (but still intriguing) picture of what's really going on. Conspiracies abound and at times it's hard to see how it'll all come together, though it does. Though a few are recruited to spy for different people, none of the main characters are naturals at intelligence work, often they seem to be people who've somehow gotten themselves in over their heads.
The Skraylings are interesting and not quite like anything I've read before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The reader discovers more about them throughout the book, but there are still many questions at the end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Total Absorption, 10 Feb 2013
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This review is from: The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) (Paperback)
Whenever I see the expression `Fantasy/Urban Fantasy/ScFi, I cringe. I avoid those genres like the plague.
The thoughts of a yuppie vampire couple, at the checkout of Harvey Nics, enduring existential angst, over the upcoming encounter with their daughter's headmaster, because she, their daughter, has been caught nibbling the necks of pubescent boys in their school toilets, in return for certain favours...doesn't do it for me. I need my vampires, Nosferatu-ish or Christopher Lee-like.

The creation of strange new worlds in far flung galaxies, or alternative universes, awash with character/place names, that may as well be in Mongolian, for all I'm able to get a grip on them...doesn't do it either.

All coming from a man whose favourite book is the novelisation of the screenplay of ALIEN, which, also being his joint favourite movie along with Blade Runner, could make the above sound a tad hypocritical. Especially so, he having only recently taken possession of, amongst others, a H P Lovecraft Omnibus, as well as a compendium of ghost stories spanning twenty years, and In a Glass Darkly, by Sheridan Le Fanu.

If I spun round in my swivel chair, my gaze would take in novels from cultures spanning the globe, and reaching back to 500BC. My Taste in literature is nothing if not eclectic.

I'm an ardent admirer of George Eliot, Edith Wharton, and Jane Austen.

I'm moderately intrigued by the first few pages of Rose Tremain's Restoration. I think I'll enjoy reading it...when I get around to it.

After having read the fist 169 pages of a currently highly regarded Tudor period piece, and putting it down, nothing as yet, has made feel inclined to pick it up again and finnish it...unlike Anne Lyle's: The Alchemist of Souls

Reaching the end of TAoS, I closed the book, and a big grin of satisfaction spread across my face. I don't normally react like that, no matter how good the book. Oh...I chuckle away at George Eliot, and laugh out loud at others, but this was a different kind of pleasure...it was pure sensual satiation...smug satisfaction.

I thought to myself, `There has to be flaws between those covers...somewhere, but if there are, they're very well hidden, and it's beyond me to find them. With her command of language, and her obvious ability to use it to its fullest potential...Anne Lyle is at the top of her game...a Master of her craft.'

Reading TAoS was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I can remember. Whilst reading TAoS, so absorbing was the tale, I was never aware of the fact that I was actually involved in the reading process. I was aware...very aware...that I was in Tudor London. That to me, is the main criteria by which I judge a book. The fourth wall in this case, is 4ft thick reenforced concrete.

I'll be looking out for the next Novel in the series.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb and riveting début, 5 Jun 2012
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Leo Elijah Cristea (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) (Paperback)
I'll start by saying this is the first book from this imprint I've read; mainly as I'd never really heard of Angry Robot Books before (shame on me!). The majority of the titles I read have been published by Orbit, Gollancz, and Tor, and since I am fairly new to alternate history fantasy, or historical fantasy (a particular flavour that seems very common to the imprint) it's not a surprise to me that this is my first.

And what a first to begin with! I honestly haven't had this much fun with a book since Douglas Hulick's Among Thieves. They are very different books, but they share the same sort of cloak-and-dagger flavour.

I must begin by saying that Anne Lyle is a storyweaver of the highest calibre; her elegant prose is nothing short of beautiful. I enjoyed every single second of this book and everything from the characters and their relationships, to the exceptionally tight plotting, to the believable intrigue heralds Lyle as not just an insanely talented new writer, but also a poet and true master of words.

It might be somewhat obvious by now that The Alchemist of Souls was a hit with me. I'll try not to gush too much hereafter...

I'm very new to real-world or alternative history fantasy--that isn't of the urban variety--and I am woefully unused to the genre and the way it works, having only read The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, thus far. I'd been under the impression that I might not like a fantasy of this type--that it wouldn't be "fantasy" enough for me, being set in our real world. In the end, that didn't matter a jot. The most magical thing about alternate or historical real world fantasy is that anything goes. I suppose that's why it's fantasy.

Lyle's imagination is a vivid and colourful one, and boy does it show through. The Alchemist of Souls offers, alongside the usual life of Elizabethan England, the skraylings--creatures from the New World--and a fashion of alchemical magic and wonder that gives a whole different edge to the story.

The characters are believable and exceptionally well written; there isn't a single member of the cast who doesn't vie for your readerly affections--and there certainly isn't one who doesn't receive them. I liked everyone. I forget the last time I read a book and liked absolutely everyone. Sure enough, the characters have flaws and the way in which the other characters see them differs depending on POV--it's interesting and builds a gentle sense of natural conflict and tension that is so very real that it brings the characters to life on a whole new level.

Maliverny Catlyn is the protagonist, and at first glance he appears to be your typical rogue-with-a-fancy-rapier. From a noble line, but down on his luck, Mal doesn't seem to be anything special, and at first, the supporting cast--player Gabriel "Angel" Parish, scribe, Ned Faulkner, Mal's friend and Gabriel's lover, and Coby, a tireman for a troupe of actors with the patronage of Lord Suffolk--seem to be far more interesting and layered. Of course, there is far, far more to Mal than meets the eye--more than even he knows.

Gabriel and Ned begin the story apart, with Ned mooning over an uninterested Mal--but that doesn't stop Ned hoping--with Gabriel readying himself within his group of players, Suffolk's Men, headed by Master Naismith for a playing contest, whilst Mal is conveyed to the Tower of London in questionable circumstances, for reasons contrary to his expectations. Meanwhile Coby--Jacob Hendricks--is a young Dutch boy fending for himself whilst holding a treacherous secret to his chest. The events of the story all intertwine and pull the characters closer together, with unexpected revelations and circumstances along the way.

Not one character is under- or overdone and when the viewpoint skips from one to another, there is no sense of lost pace or momentum. All the characters are equally entertaining and with equally riveting plot arcs of their own.

I particularly enjoyed the way Lyle handles homosexuality and gay sex. Since she's a woman, I'm certain it's something she's never experienced, but instead of treating it as something alien, she appears to write simply as though she were writing love/sex scenes between any two characters that share lust or love for one another. And the prose is all the richer for it. I haven't read many gay sex scenes in fantasy. In fact, the only character I've read who is homosexual is The Legends of the Red Sun's (Mark Charan Newton) Brynd Lathraea. There was something more to the relationships between Lyle's men, something far more passionate and real.

As a bisexual male, I definitely appreciated a break from swooning maidens and heroes with their eyes agog at the heroine's fine, fine cleavage. It was a refreshing change, and a fantastic reminder of how much closer men used to be with one another, in light of the role women played, historically, in Lyle's chosen time-setting. If we're not mincing words; I bloody loved it.

There are more twists, plots, and subtle machinations in The Alchemist of Souls than you can shake a pointy thing at--and damn does Lyle write every second, every detail, every thread so impeccably well that you'd think she's been writing books for centuries. Yes, she's that good.

It has been a long time since I encountered an author whose work I would describe as poetry also. Anne Lyle is one such author. The Alchemist of Souls, as a work of elegant fantasy prose, should be considered alongside Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and (by my favour) Elspeth Cooper's Songs of the Earth.

Anne Lyle's writing is beautiful, elegant and gripping; be prepared to be swept away to a rich and colourful depiction of a different Elizabethan England, where treachery and danger abound.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great, fast paced story, 7 July 2013
I enjoyed the story of Mal. He was a hero after my own taste and I'll most definitely buy the next two books in this trilogy. The historical area has been captured well (as far as I know) and the characters were both believable and interesting. There was conflict in every scene and enough twists to keep me intrigued.

The language felt a little stiff at places, but I put it down to the time period and me being German. I'd probably have read it differently if I were born and raised English. As it was, there were a couple of words I had to look up and a few phrases that repeated throughout the story. Nothing of that bothered me enough to interrupt my reading pleasure. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves history and doesn't mind a fantastical twist to an area.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dashing Elizabethan fantasy that plays with expectations, 7 May 2012
By 
Mr. C. Horner "hierath" (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) (Paperback)
"The Alchemist of Souls" is Anne Lyle's debut novel, and I'd been drawn to reading it after hearing her read an extract at BristolCon last year, sucked in by what little I'd heard about the setting and characters. The novel takes place in an alternate version of Elizabethan England. Mourning the death of her husband and father of her two sons, Robert Dudley, Queen Elisabeth has retreated into seclusion in her old age, while explorers to the New World have been followed home by skraylings, non-human creatures of Viking legend. The skraylings set up trading camps in London, and send an ambassador to the court of the aging Queen.

Maliverny Catlyn, down-on-his-luck swordsman and secret Catholic, is desperate for money to treat his sick brother. He is plucked from the streets for reasons unknown to him and appointed as the bodyguard to the Skrayling ambassador as he judges a series of completely plays written to honour his visit. It is in this capacity that he meets Jacob Hendricks, the young tireman of a company of travelling players, who has secrets of his own. Conspiracy and counter-conspiracy weave around Mal and Coby, and the skraylings and the nobility are in the thick of it, tangled in a dangerous game that could cost Mal more than his life.

Tudor-era settings seem to be under-used in fantasy, which is a shame, because when they're done well, as they are in "Alchemist of Souls", they add a rich extra depth to the genre. Lyle brings life to the grimy back-alleys, the theatres and the taverns of alt-Elizabethan London in a way that's totally convincing, and her characters - financially-embarrassed Mal, luckless Ned, shy, secretive Coby - are full and fascinating (I'd also like to add a small "mmmm" for the cover ;) ). Even the skraylings, who could have become cliché "aliens", are given room to breathe and grow.

Recommended for fans of Ellen Kushner's wonderful "Swordspoint" (and if you haven't read that, put it on your wish list right now), and Mary Gentle's "1610- A Sundial in a Grave", which had a similar theatrical setting and thrilling combination of magic and history. The sequel, "The Merchant of Dreams" will be out later in the year. Give yourself a treat and catch up now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for me, 28 April 2012
By 
Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog "Falcata T... - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) (Paperback)
I love a new author and one that brings mystery, intrigue as well as a fantasy flavour is usually one that I can't wait to get started on. Here, Anne brings Nordic myth alongside Elizabethan to life in this no holds barred twisted tail where the price of freedom may be a war that can ill be afforded. Its cleverly plotted, the author brings the time period to life and when you add solid prose alongside pace together it's a tale that really hits on so many levels.

Sadly, that said, I did have a few problems with it such as connecting with the lead character which I never felt that I truly did throughout the whole title which made this a bit of a struggle. That said however, I do feel that perhaps that now that the author has a firmer footing in her world, that future releases will fix this. I'll wait and see.

All in it is a book that was definitely interesting, but without a character to latch onto that helps flesh it out emotionally, then I really have problems giving it the full treatment that such careful plotting deserves.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong Elizabethan Fantasy Debut, 5 April 2012
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This review is from: The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) (Paperback)
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 Catlyn his soul.

Maliverny 'Mal' Catyln is a suitably heroic sort and he certainly typifies what you would expect from an Elizabethan dashing blade. Driven to protect Queen and country, he throws himself into his role and won't let anything stop him. Mal has a roguish charm and his mix of easy manner and strong resolve make him a perfect protagonist.

Though Mal is an interesting lead, there were a couple of other characters that I was more taken with. Coby is a teenage girl who is forced to live her life pretending to be a boy, calling herself Jacob, in order to survive on her own. She is intelligent, inquisitive and has a quick wit. It struck me that she was far more sensible, and likeable, than the vast majority of her male contemporaries. The other character who struck a chord is Ned Faulkner, Mal's best friend. I've not read a lot of fantasy fiction that features an openly gay character and I liked the dynamic that exists between Ned and Mal. There is an unrequited love that has a genuinely bittersweet air. Through Cody and Ned the author gets the chance to deliver some subtle, yet insightful, commentary on the nature of gender politics and sexuality in the 16th century.

One of the big questions that the novel examines is the coming together of different cultures. Initally the skraylings appear to be a slightly creepy, supernatural race, and their civilisation is completely alien to everyone that comes into contact with them. Through his role as bodyguard, Mal gets to learn the secrets of their race. He gets to learn that in many ways the skraylings are not that dissimilar to us.

Anne Lyle's writing manages to very effectively portray the differing faces of Tudor era England. In some scenes the reader will find themselves in the midst of a bawdy romp while in another there is the spectacle of all the pomp and ceremony of the age. Amongst all this decadence, there are also glimpses of the dark conspiracies and petty intrigues that existed at that time. Politics and murder walk hand in hand and it is up to Mal and his friends to discover the truth behind the lies.

One of my favourite things that about novels that have a historic setting is the language that an author gets the opportunity to play with. I can't help but smile when I am faced with a hey nonny nonny. The Alchemist of Souls contains so many wonderful turns of phrase and scattering these throughout the text adds an extra layer of depth to the narrative. These little Shakespearean touches are a heck of a lot of fun.

Over on the Angry Robot website, author of The Sword of Albion, Mark Chadbourn, has this to say about the novel.

"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."

Even after reading only the first few chapters I quickly realised that he was one hundred percent right. My advice Mr Chadbourn - you had better watch your back, you've got some serious competition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written gem of a book, 7 Aug 2013
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A beautifully written alternative-history fantasy. It has the same sense of place that Neal Stephenson achieved in his Quicksilver trilogy, bringing Elizabethan London wonderfully to life. Coby is a delightful heroine, brave and resourceful, and Mal is a capable yet sympathetic leading man. The writing is a real work of craftsmanship, which stands out amongst the many debut authors I have read recently, and of which I am very appreciative.

My only criticism would be the slow start. In fact I began this book months ago, and I wish I had persevered then. Don't make the same mistake I did!
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The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot)
The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) by Anne Lyle (Paperback - 5 April 2012)
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