BOOK REVIEW: The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

The first novel by British author Anne Lyle has arrived and brings a fresh take on the alternate histories tale. Once again Angry Robot brings new talent to the masses.


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 his soul.

Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls is an alternative history novel set in the latter part of Elizabethan England.  In this history the Vikings Skraylings are another race of intelligent manlike beings who inhabit the large portions of North America and who have a vast trading empire fuelled by their superior technology which is viewed by Europeans as magic.  A shaky alliance exists between the English and the Skraylings, against the Spanish and French.

The Skraylings know that reincarnation exists, at least for them, and so they reject the tenets of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.  Because of this they are viewed by many religious people as children of the Devil.

Maliverny Catlyn, one of twin sons of an English Diplomat and French Catholic heiress is thrust into this mix.  While he has fought in wars on the continent for Queen and country, his twin Sandy has been committed to Bethlehem Hospital as a madman, as he does not know what is real and what is not and entertains paying customers with his ranting.

Mal is made the bodyguard of the Skaylings Ambassador to the court.  Unknown to Mal, everyone around him from commoner to Lord, including the ambassador has ulterior motives, either hiding their illicit love, their true natures or what they really want out of Mal and the Ambassador.  Things are further complicated as the Ambassador is expected to judge a contest of theatre performances, while Mal struggles to keep his twin, himself and the Ambassador live amidst betrayals and the Skaylings magic.

Well written and researched, this is a good read, historically accurate, drawing on the history, customs and people of the time. There are two sequels to The Alchemist of Souls in the works (publication dates tbc): Book 2 – The Merchant of Dreams and Book 3 – The Prince of Lies.

GS Rating 4/5

Download a extract HERE

UK/RoW
5 April 2012
432pp B-format paperback
£8.99
ISBN 9780857662132

US/CAN
27 March 2012
448pp mass-market paperback
$7.99 US $8.99 CAN
ISBN 9780857662149

eBook
27 March 2012
£4.49
ePub ISBN 9780857662156

Source: Angry Robot
GS Reporter: Whatotherway, Montoya

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