Cover by Larry Rostant at Artist Partners.
THE MERCHANT OF DREAMS
NIGHTS MASQUE VOL. II
Pages: 519 (+ acknowledgements)
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Published: 18 December 2012
On the cover:
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.
The second book in a trilogy can sometimes become bogged down in being nothing more than a transition between a beginning and an end. This is not the case with this second volume. It is of course the middle volume in the sense that it does follow on from a book it helps to have read, and that it doesn't hide that there's another book to come, but we do get a story that has both a beginning and an end here.
After the events of the first book, we have left London behind when this book begins. Although I was fascinated by Lyle's alternate history London, I think going abroad was a good choice. Expanding the setting means that there is also room to explore several aspects of this alternate history. Especially the skraylings get put into a bit of a larger context by the change of surroundings. And perhaps more importantly, the change of setting gives us a natural backdrop to learn more about the skraylings and their place in this version of the Elizabethan Era.
This is perhaps the aspect of SFF in general, and Alternate History in particular, that fascinates me the most. I am into history, so I like my SFF to have a sense of history behind it. To have grown "organically" from some point into what I am presented with. Especially important for anything with an alternate timeline, of course.
Lyle doesn't disappoint in this regard, there is a solid history in the background of this story. And despite the introduction of the alien skraylings, it feels very real. It is a tangible, vivid world, that feels like it is really alive. The feeling that this is Historical Fiction is present throughout.
A solid setting doesn't make a book though, it's an important backdrop, but there also needs to be a story in there to make it a novel. Fortunately there is one, and it is one filled with interesting events. These events are centered on the Catlyn brothers' strange relationship to the skraylings on one level, and on the greater scale of the politics having to do with the skraylings' place in the world. Those two parts of the story not only intersect, they are inseparable.
There is quite a lot going on here, on both personal and geopolitical levels. I'm not giving away much when I say that we will be going to Venice, and that the city will be the springboard for some very interesting events. Things happen fast in this story, but it doesn't actually feel like it all the time. Lyle's style of writing means that the story flows so smoothly that when I finished the book I had a bit of trouble accepting that I had actually read five hundred pages. And I absolutely mean that as a compliment.
Trying to think through why I almost felt like I was tricked by the pagecount, I came up with a sort of explanation. Lyle is a great storyteller, and she delivers the story without a lot of fuss. Although there are a lot of events that have major implications, they aren't really advertised as such. So at the end of the novel I had to think about if there really was five hundred pages of story here; and that there is. This is free of any padding, and it "reads leaner" than it is. And when you spend time with these characters, time -and pages- really fly.
The characters here are excellent. Maliverny Catlyn is as excellent a swashbuckler as he was last time, and he gets to do a bit of growth in his personal life. We also get to see quite a few of the supporting characters from last time again, while we get to meet some interesting new faces. But the one who I think really shines this time is Jacomina Hendricksdochter (, that's her with the pistol on the cover). She was prominent last time around too, but this time she really gets to come into her own. We get to see her grow into a women, and take up the fight when needed. And by the end of this novel, we can really see that she has started on a new path in life.
There really is a lot to love in this novel. Lyle gives us a story that has suspense, intrigue, and action. Set in an alternate reality that feels totally real. The characters feel alive, and are very interesting companions on the journey the story takes the reader.
This is excellent Alternate History/Historical Fantasy/Historical Fiction, and if any of those three genres sound like they are interesting to you, you should do yourself the favour of picking up Anne Lyle's Night's Masque books. This sequel is simply a great reading experience.
REVIEW: The Alchemist of Souls
LINKS: Anne Lyle Angry Robot Books