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The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot) Paperback – 5 Apr 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Angry Robot Books (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857662139
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857662132
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.1 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 752,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


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, author of The Sword of Albion

About the Author

Anne Lyle was born in what is known to the tourist industry as Robin Hood Country , and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottingham for diminutive female swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead. It appears that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can t take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends every spare hour writing (or at least planning) fantasy fiction about spies, actors, outlaws and other folk on the fringes of society. Her Night s Masque series is set in an alternate history Elizabethan England, where the Virgin Queen married and had children while fanged and tattooed creatures from the New World walk the streets of London. Anne lives in Cambridge, a city full of medieval and Tudor buildings where cattle graze on the common land much as they did in Shakespeare s London.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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"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 ;) ).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: 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.
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