Bane of Kings reviews Anne Lyle’s second novel in the Night’s Masque Trilogy, The Merchant of Dreams, published by Angry Robot Books and out in December 2012.
“This may be one of the best historical fiction/fantasy novels of 2012. Venice, Pirates, Skraylings, politics and some epic action scenes in sixteenth century Europe make sure that The Merchant of Dreams is a worthy successor to The Alchemist of Souls.” ~The Founding Fields
When I read The Alchemist of Souls earlier this year, by Anne Lyle –I was thoroughly impressed, and was left wondering how she would top that jaw-dropping first instalment. Well, as it turns out, The Merchant of Dreams is not just better than The Alchemist of Souls; it’s also probably my favourite pick for the best historical fiction/fantasy novel of 2012, matching, and in some cases outclassing competition from Hereward: The Devil’s Army by James Wilde and The Sword and the Scimitar by Simon Scarrow. So, what does Lyle bring to the table to make The Merchant of Dreams fresh, enjoyable and exciting? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out.
Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year.
But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.
When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.
I was a bit anxious before going into this novel with fears that the second novel might not be as good as the first, because from past experience, second novels in Trilogies are normally not as enjoyable as the predecessor. But Anne Lyle has proved to be more than just a one-trick pony with The Merchant of Dreams, and manages to balance both the pacing and the storytelling out equally, so there are not many parts where we’re left thinking that this is perhaps a bit too slow for what we’ve come to expect.
The characters continue to grow, develop and change throughout the novel. Coby and Mal get the most screen time here, and it’s interesting to see how Lyle deals with not only her fictional characters but also the appearances of historical ones, such as Sir Walter Raleigh. The characters here are mostly three dimensional and are extremely well characterized. Coby herself is a particularly interesting character and is easily the strongest female character of the novel. She goes from strength to strength over the course of the novel and by the end – it will be very interesting to see how the third novel plays out for her and Mal, and where their relationship goes from there.
Whilst in The Alchemist of Souls, we saw the action limited to pretty much just London; The Merchant of Dreams takes the setting to a whole new level. And by that, I’m talking about Venice. Anne Lyle has captured the Italian City with great detail, and we truly get a sense that they are actually there when we visit with Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel. We also get plenty of naval action as well, and a portion of this book is spent at sea, allowing for a varied plot and several different action scenes that keep the reader from having to experience what may seem like the same old fight scene again and again.
As I received The Merchant of Dreams from NetGalley, I read the eBook version – and I must say that this did a very good job of keeping me entertained on several bus journeys – I almost ended up missing my stop because I was so enthralled in Anne Lyle’s latest tale. Fans of The Alchemist of Souls need not worry – Coby and Mal are in safe hands in this sequel that proves that second novels can surpass the first. A great read.
The Night’s Masque Trilogy: The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams, (TBA)