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The Alchemist of Souls

(Night's Masque #1)

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  1,633 ratings  ·  263 reviews
When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods--and a skrayling ambassador--to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded
Mass Market Paperback, 518 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Angry Robot
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Average rating 3.46  · 
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 ·  1,633 ratings  ·  263 reviews

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Kara Babcock
Now this is how you write a novel!

I love fiction set in Tudor and Elizabethan England. It seems an era particularly rich in epic, empire-spanning events and internal religious and royal conflict. If an author can make historical figures come alive and explore the emotions and motivations that might have been involved in these intrigues, the resultant novel can be an intense, interesting invocation of history. This era is also a rich source of inspiration for historical fantasy, and sometimes eve
Aug 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, paranormal
This was an easygoing and enjoyable read. It was an alternate history/fantasy novel set in Elizabethan London. The world building was quite good. Anne Lyle manages to keep the feel of Tudor England while seamlessly mixing in the fantasy elements of the Skraylings and their magic.

This story follows down on his luck swordsman for hire Mal Catlyn as he is hired as bodyguard to the newly arrived Skrayling ambassador. The plot was rife with intrigue and mystery, and even had a hint of romance.

Mal w
The cover got me. It really did. And two stars is a perhaps a slightly unfair rating. The idea is good. I like the world; it's an interesting what if. The problem is that the relationships between the characters is so, so flat. There is suppose to be a romance, and I just don't buy that the two characters are even in lust.

And I'm sorry, while Coby is an interesting character, she is also a very contrived character. She's seventeen so we won't feel icky, but she hasn't had her monthly yet?

Yet, L
This is another review that I've put off writing because I'm still feeling rather ranty about it.

My problems with this book don't really lie with the story, but with the vocabulary.

I have issues with the word whilst. It's fine in dialogue as long as it's used sparingly, but I can't stand when it's used as a descriptive.

This book used the word whilst SIXTY TIMES (and more than once it was used TWICE IN THE SAME SENTENCE). Yes, I went back and counted after I had finished. I tried to read the seco
Xenophon Hendrix
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a combination fantasy and alternate history. The setting is Elizabethan England, but in addition to American Indians, the New World is the residence of a humanoid species called skraylings, the name doubtless inspired by the Norse sagas. Furthermore, Queen Elizabeth in the author's world is widowed and has two sons.

Aside from the alternate history, fantasy plays an important but not dominant role in the story. There are no wizards slinging fireballs around, but a couple magical events ar
Sep 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: didnt-finish
Another miss for me. This time I gave it more than 100 pages, though, so I feel it got a fair shake.

The premise looks great- an alternate history set during the reign of Elizabeth I, with "skraylings" here from the New World instead of our Native Americans. Maybe a bit of magic, too?

The setting was fine. I felt that the author inserted details a bit clumsily in order to give an authentic period flavor. At one point our hero is accosted by two anonymous lordlings (why? just to give vague threats-
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is a tough one. I've had, and I won't bore you with the details, the week from Hell, and it's only Wednesday. Reading like a person possessed has been the only thing that's kept me in one piece, so I've torn through this in record time. Maybe I ran through it too fast, or maybe just my messed up head in general hasn't done it justice, but I really didn't feel this lived up to expectations.

The Alchemist of souls is built on a fantastic concept, I love the idea of the Skraylings, but for me
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had high expectations for this book and I wasn't disappointed. This alternate history set in Tudor England with the small addition of fanged and tattooed New Worlders, who I suspect were inspired by the Aztec, has been a very interesting account of the lives and adventures of a rapier master turned bodyguard and spy and a girl masked as a boy in a true Shakespearean fashion.

I found the story very entertaining and engaging. The characters were true to life and quite interesting. I loved the fa
Sep 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a great alternate history fantasy, set in Elizabethan England. Viking explorers discovered a magical race in the New World, and they impact England in all sorts of interesting ways in this story. One of the main characters is a young woman who dresses as a man in order to stay independent and continue to work with a theater company. There are several prominent gay and bisexual characters, all handled very well. There are some excellent twists to the story that build suspense very well, a ...more
A very solid novel, anchored in real-world history. The relationship between England, France and Spain felt credible ; I'm not an expert in history but it seemed good to me. The "fantasy" aspects blended very well into the real ones.

I liked the inclusion of homosexuality, the way it is viewed in society by different characters, and the fact that several characters were seen as having successful relationships with people of the same sex. Not a "bury your gays" book, yay !

It was a bit confused at
Sep 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014, fantasy
Basic plot: Mal Catlyn is a down-on-his-luck swordsman who falls into the job of a lifetime, guarding the Skrayling ambassador to England. Lots of shenanigans.

AUGH. So much potential... So much wanting to like... So MUCH wasted time... SO many overdue fees at the library (A whole 75 cents!)... GAH.

Ok, so to begin at the beginning: POTENTIAL. We have an alternate history of Elizabethan England featuring a queen who actually married Robert Dudley and had kids. So much potential. Shakespeare is run
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: angry-robot, fantasy
You can read the full review over at my blog:

Shadowhawk reviews The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle, a debut historical fantasy novel published by Angry Robot Books.

“This is the year of debuts and The Alchemist of Souls takes you along for the wildest ride as you explore Elizabethan England through the eyes of a reluctant hero.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

My interest in Alchemist of Souls was first sparked when I came across a comment describing the n
Jun 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
A sweeping story that engrossed me on many levels, THE ALCHEMIST OF SOULS kept me guessing with nuanced characters, unexpected world building, and a fascinating blend of real and imagined history. The switching view points expertly kept several plots in the air at once, and I would be hard pressed to choose which of the several charming lead characters emerged as my favorite overall.

Mal and Coby are both admirable and vulnerable by turns, but the author never betrays their soft spots for cheap
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2015, fantasy
This was just ok for me. It sort of felt like there was something missing. I can't put my finger on exactly what, but something. It started out interesting, but just failed to hold my attention overall. By the halfway point I was just waiting for it to be over and pushing through just to get it over with. And that's not to say it was bad though... It was fine. Like I said, it just didn't hold my attention. Whenever I read it my mind would drift and instead of comprehending the words on the page ...more
May 24, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
I had trouble getting into this book initially, but then I got caught up in the plots and counter-plots and other plotting going on. Unfortunately, I found the ending a little flat. While all the main plot threads were tied off, there is still clearly a lot more to be uncovered.

I also had trouble working up my enthusiasm for the characters but I think that is more to do with my mood when I was reading this book than the author's skills.

All in all, a very good debut novel and I'll be picking up
Original Post:

“A fantastic, original piece of historical fantasy that makes Lyle a début author to watch out for in 2012.” The Founding Fields.

I haven’t read that much Historical Fiction, be it historical fantasy, as Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan was, and Dan Abnett’s Triumff (also published by Angry Robot) – or just standard historical action, like the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell, or the Eagle novels by Simon Scarrow, so I thought I’d allow myself to pi
All I can say is Wow! This book is so utterly amazing in the seamless way it blends real history with imaginative elements that if you hadn't read your history books it would be believable that people like Mal Catlyn and Skaylings existed. Of course the Queen of adding people to historical novels is Dorothy Dunnett, but Ms. Lyle had a harder job, as she not only had to add people to history, but change history as wel,with Elizabeth I marriage to Dudley and the discovery of the Skraylings in the ...more
Fantasy Review Barn

If I just throw out my random thoughts about this book could someone do all the work and put it into a cohesive review? Because I have honestly tried three times, and have deleted everything I wrote each time. So here are my thoughts, and feel free to email the review back to me when you’re done. K? Thanks!

-Wow, totally thought this was a first contact book based on the blurb, but really it deals with two cultures still feeling each other out, but with strong trade ties alread
An impeccably-researched alt-history set late in Queen Elizabeth I's reign.

In this world there are two main points of difference. Elizabeth married and bore two sons, and there is a race of people called "skraylings" who come from Vinland (Newfoundland). Presumably this is a play on 'skraeling', which is what the Norse called Greenland and Vinland's Native Americans, although this book's skraelings are non-humans with fangs and vestigial tails. England has an important alliance with (the main cl
Annette Gisby
Wonderful fantasy book set in an alternate Elizabetan era of our world. One of the main characters is gay, one is a girl who dresses as a boy and one has a mad twin. It's got, magic, excitement, political intrigue and a lot of it is set in the theatre, quite a unique setting in fantasy. Adored every minute of it.
originally posted at:

The Alchemist of Souls is a book that has been on my must read list for a very long time. Ever since I found out about this title it has been luring at me. Luckily I got the opportunity to finally review The Alchemist of Souls and all I can say is wow. This isn't your ordinary historical fiction as Anne Lyle greatly builds up her world in a deft way, using an important timeframe in Elizabethan London, and spinning it in her own direct
Dec 20, 2011 rated it liked it
I received this through a Goodreads giveaway – a nice surprise during the holidays.

There was so much good in this book that I really wanted to like it more. The writing, the characters, the setting, the dialogue – all were handled beautifully. But that just disappointed me more when the novel started to unravel toward the end. When you build a story up to a high pitch of excitement, you’ve got to deliver a rousing finish. And this book just didn’t follow through enough. What can I say? It stumb
Leontiy Cristea
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Review originally posted at:

I’ll start by saying this is the first book from this imprint I’ve read; mainly as I’d never really heard of Angry Robot Books before (shame on me!). The majority of the titles I read have been published by Orbit, Gollancz, and Tor, and since I am fairly new to alternate history fantasy, or historical fantasy (a particular flavour that seems very common to the imprint) it’s not a surprise to me that this is my first.

And what a
This alternate history set in Elizabethan England started off slow. It took about 150 pages until it really gets to the meat of the story: intricate political plots surrounding the strange skrayling race from Vinland. The individual characterisation lacks depth, but the power relations and setting are interesting. I much enjoyed the plotting in the latter half of the book, and the slow revealing of the skrayling's magic was well done.

Trigger warnings: (view spoiler)
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adore, fantasy
Wow! Lyle created a parallel world set in Elizabethan Era.
Brilliant world building, intriguing story... cant wait for the next book!


To be honest I kind of stumbled over this book, mainly picked it up in the first place because i liked the cover… yes sometimes i am just a simple cover slut!
I did like the summary as well. The book however was for a long time in my shelf unread. When I finally picked it up, I was astounded! Lyle created an alternate universe set in Elizabethan London added
DNF at 31%/175 pages. It sparks no joy. Time to give up.
Alek Cristea
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Alchemist Of Souls, written by Anne Lyle, is a book I spotted on several occasions during my search on Amazon for new and exciting fantasy books. It is also a book I am ashamed to admit I discounted several times. The reason was simple: The Alchemist of Souls is historical fantasy and I had never, until I read it, given the genre a go. Instead, I had this weird concept that I wouldn’t like it.

Now I sit here wondering what the hell I was thinking.

There are few books that I have loved as much
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was my first foray into historical fantasy, and if all of it is this good I’m going to have to read a lot more of it. The story takes place in an alternate version of Elizabethan England, where the Virgin Queen of yore has actually married and has two adult sons. If the book stated an actual date when the action takes place I have forgotten it, but since this is an alternate reality it’s not really relevant.
The other significant difference is that when the explorers discovered America, they
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Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as “Robin Hood Country”, and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead.

It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can’t

Other books in the series

Night's Masque (3 books)
  • The Merchant of Dreams (Night's Masque, #2)
  • The Prince of Lies (Night's Masque, #3)

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