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Nocturnal Book Reviews

Blogging at Nocturnal Book Reviews since May 2011 about steampunk, urban fantasy, historical & paranormal fiction, contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi & erotica.

The Alchemist of Souls: Night's Masque, Volume 1

The Alchemist of Souls - Anne Lyle If you enjoy paranormal historical fiction the likes of Sword & Blood by Sarah Marques or Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson, this book is definitely for you.

The Alchemist of Souls was delightful. Full of gorgeous historical details and true to the spirit of Elizabethan era, but at the same time curiously magical.

Anne Lyle took American Indians of New World and tweaking this or that turned them into skraylings, - these magical beings with scaly tails; strong healers and traders, secretive, mysterious and enigmatic, who became a powerful ally for the Elizabethan Court.

The Alchemist of Souls has everything, - gritty and bloody fencing, the frailty of human life so typical for the era, blackmail, forbidden exploration of homosexuality, case of cross-dressing, political intrigues, spies, rebels, secret societies, and above all, love for the all things theatrical.

There is nothing particularly alchemical in this book, and the main character, Maliverny Catlyn doesn't have any magical talents. He is an ex-soldier with an insane twin-brother and some unholy fighting skills. So, when the ambassador of the skraylings requests him, an impoverished aristocratic son of a dead diplomat as his bodyguard, no one can be more surprised at his choice than Mal.

Since the incident from his childhood after which his brother went mad, Mal is deadly afraid of skraylings, but the money is good, and he is pretty desperate to take the job.

The deeper Mal is drawn into the life of skraylings and the closer he gets to the young ambassador, the worse his chances of survival. Everyone wants a slice of skraylings - Spanish, French, political rivals within the court, and the strangers from New World themselves are keeping a horrifying secret which will irrevocably change all Mal's beliefs.

The secondary characters - Coby, Gabriel, Ned and Kiieran are interesting, complicated and lovely. I loved the insight into the life of theatre, Coby's brilliance and practicality, Gabriel's weaknesses and Kiieran's childlike genuine care for Mal.

Very much recommended.