As the first book from Angry Robot¸ that I’ve had the chance to read I was very excited to get my hands on it. It was also my first advance readers copy (ARC) making it all the more special to me and it didn’t disappoint. I came at this book with no expectations, having heard nothing about it and simply looking to be entertained – I read this book quite quickly as a result.
Firmly in the realm of what I could call historical fantasy or alternative history, The Alchemist of Souls puts you in London during the 1600s but things are different. Queen Elizabeth is no longer the Virgin Queen, having given birth to four children. Kit Marlowe, the playwright and cotemporary of Shakespeare, is dead. Oh and the new world is inhabited by these creatures known as Skraylings who’s motives, culture and history are unkown. Then there’s the question of magic.
England at that time is still feeling the effects of the Reformation and as such Catholics are not well liked and Skraylings are barely tolerated as they continue to refuse to accept Christ as their savior. It’s an element of historic fact that is worked well into the story and helps to define the characters and put a bit of tension into their actions, and one that never comes to fruition but sets up the possibility of future conflicts. Much of the defining elements of Anne Lyle’s work are under the surface which keeps the story and its characters grounded in the world we know.
What I particularly like is that the motives of practically all characters, with the few exceptions being those POV characters, are never stated. It’s unclear throughout the entire book adding a realism that lends strength to the story. This is particularly true of the Skraylings, who are for the greater part an unknown quantity and never present their purpose. Magic is much the same way, as it’s never explained or used enforce but rather as a subtle swirl used to dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” of a scene.
One of the nicest aspects of The Alchemist of Souls were the openly gay characters and how little this bothered the others. Yes one or two were uncomfortable by the openness but it just made the book all the more real for its presentation of such facts. At the same time one of the author’s stylistic choices I found a bit jarring; it was common for her to leave out transitions between scenes meaning that it felt like characters were suddenly teleported into a scene without warning. It’s not always the case but it was noticeable and of course not a required part of any story but when I think a character is on one side of the city and in the next scene is elbows deep in a meal.
To sum up: The book was enjoyable and one I recommend, it’s especially good for those who prefer historical fiction or are wanting to get into fantasy as there are none of the traditional tropes like elves, dwarves and wizards slinging magic like its pig slop. It was an entertaining read that I wish was longer and should there be a sequel then I know I’ll pick it up.(less)
I have heard so much about this series – superheroes and villains created by the release of an alien virus with but its only whims to determine who receives what power and even if they do. The fact that there were no discernible rules to what those powers could be or how grotesque the deformities could become offered a chance to really explore the nature of humans when faced with this new development.
And that’s what it felt like the series was about – how will humanity react. It’s a good question and one that the authors jumped on immediately, posing their own problems and situating the characters into history so that there was a larger context to everything. It works. The idea works, yet the problem comes in, as it does with all compilations of music or story and poetry anthologies, as not every story is entertaining.
This of course is a subjective reading of the book as any review is apt to be and so those stories that I struggle through others may not. But at 478 pages Wild Cards, Vol. 1 stretches far too long and far too much for what should be some entertaining schlock. For that matter the cover through me and so did the continual mentions of Jetboy. It all lead me to believe that these stories would be in a world similar to that of Crimson Skies, with airships, aerial dogfights, new world orders and all accompanied by the advent of aliens and superpowers.
Basically I was expecting a really awesome comic book with a varied and wild world full of possibility. Instead I was bored, some of the time. There are plenty of enjoyable stories, none that I found truly memorable and it was entertaining – while I could be bothered to read it. In the end I finished at about the 411 page mark as I just wasn’t enjoying it any further and felt like I was slogging through muck just to finish it for finishing sake.
I see so much chatter about this series, and normally I’d welcome the chance to be proven wrong about my initial assessment but at the moment I just don’t care. I want to be entertained AND I want to read something worthwhile for the entirety of a book, but when I’m not I’m going to be hard pressed to continue with a series. I hate to give up on a book but with so much to read I had to.
As far as recommending Wild Cards, Vol. 1 I just can’t. There wasn’t enough happening with it for me to feel satisfied in any regard. None of this is to say that I won’t read more of Martin’s or the other authors’ work – one piece is never indicative of an author, or it shouldn’t be. So if you have a suggestion of something that combines the aeronautical antics of Crimson Skies with aliens and superpowers let me know, I’d love to have a read of that.(less)