Book Reviews: The Alchemist of Souls

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Book Review: The Alchemist of Souls / Author: Anne Lyle / Format: Paperback / Publisher: Angry Robot / Release Date: Out Now

I’m a sucker for tales set during the reign of Elizabeth the First; the Gloriana is a period of history that mixes the familiarity of the modern with the strangeness of days gone by. Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls takes the world of Shakespeare and Walter Raleigh and adds strange beings from the New World into the mix, the superior and elf-like Skraylings.

The main story focuses on down-on-his-luck swordsman Mal, who gets hired to protect a Skrayling Ambassador. Wackiness, of course, ensues as things become much more interesting than Mal expected. The tale is told from multiple points-of-view, and though Mal is a likeable and rounded character, his friend and partner in shenanigans Coby is the most endearing here.

Lyle’s story is heavily character driven; despite the historic back-drop and interesting changes to history, this is a book that’s about people dealing with very strange circumstances. Each character is incredibly well detailed, and we get drawn into the intimate details of their lives. This is apparently Lyles debut novel, and I find that very impressive; she drags the reader into her world and simply doesn’t let them leave. It’s a world packed with magic, sword-fighting and all the required weirdness. Multiple character perspective storytelling is often difficult to get into, but Alchemist of Souls manages this seamlessly.

Sexuality is explored here as well, in a way that’s both a good fit for the period but also doesn’t offend modern sensibilities; those studying sociology or queer theory will have enough here to get their teeth into, and the novel does this without alienating or offending anyone, and it’s nice to see open minded historical characters.

Fans of rip-roaring tales of adventure, strange magic in a harsh world will love this, as will fans of intelligently written stories of the Gloriana.

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