Gwyn's Reviews > The Alchemist of Souls

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle
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Jun 27, 12

bookshelves: fantasy, historical-ish, want
Read in June, 2012

I picked this book up based on its cover. I do that sometimes, even though I know I'm not supposed to, and sometimes I regret it. Not this time, though: The Alchemist of Souls is a fantastic read.

When I'm writing reviews, I like to look at the four aspects of a story (plot, characters, setting, and prose) and pick which was the best and which was the worst. Alchemist has no worst, and picking the best is difficult.

The story follows three characters: Mal Catlyn, the down-at-the-heels swordsman of the cover; Ned Faulkner, a scrivener with close ties to the theater and perhaps Catlyn's only friend; and Coby, a tireman with a theater company who is not actually the boy she seems to be. All three are drawn into the politics and conspiracies surrounding the new skrayling ambassador. It is not an especially fast-paced story, but it is an entrancing one; I just couldn't stop turning pages. I was frustrated by the quick point-of-view changes and felt that Mal's history with the skraylings was never explained with enough clarity, but those were the only flaws I found.

Prose and setting go hand in hand to create a vivid image of a unique not-London. I'm a bit of a history buff, from a family of history buffs, and I was constantly delighted with the many small details Lyle added to create a sense of realism--and if she ever got any details wrong, I never caught her. The dialogue is especially good, using just enough period phrasing to give a feel for the time without making reading uncomfortable for readers. The setting just pops from the page, as real and vivid as modern London.

The characters are usually what make me like a book. I will put up with a bad plot for good characters, but not vice versa. In Alchemist bad plot's not a problem, but the characters are still wonderful. I really enjoyed Mal's practical stoicism, and Coby's practical romanticism, and even Ned's doubtful integrity made him more complex and real.

This is easily the best book I've read in a while, and I cannot recommend it enough. I've already marked the release date for the next in the series down on my calendar.
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