Friday, February 1, 2013

The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle

I thoroughly enjoyed Anne Lyle's debut and the first book of her Night's Masque trilogy The Alchemist of Souls, so it's sequel The Merchant of Dreams was a must buy for me when I saw it.

It continues to follow the fortunes of swordsman Mal Catlyn, his actor turned valet Coby Hendricks and that of the otherworldly skraylings from the New World, a race to which Mal and his family are tied.

The Merchant of Dreams takes readers from England to Venice and brings us face to face with Mal's mysterious older brother Charles and further explains the importance of the skraylings to not only Mal and his family, but to the world at large.

Initially the book flowed more smoothly than it's predecessor because the set up wasn't required. Readers knew about the skraylings, although there was far more to be explained, and still is, about their nature. We also knew Mal and Coby, as well as the fact that Coby hides her sexuality (she's actually a girl, but for practical reasons disguised herself as a boy in The Alchemist of Souls) and that this is an alternate history, so occasionally events and people won't match up with accepted historical fact.

I liked that Anne Lyle had chosen to spread her wings and use the Italian city of Venice as her setting this time. I love the city of Venice and books set there are generally winners with me. I have to say Lyle did a great job, she really captured the exotic feel and look of the floating city.

After the initial set up the story held my interest, but I didn't feel it actually got anywhere. I guess this is book two of three and they generally leave things up in the air. At times it felt like a series of connected episodes though, rather than as part of a larger story.

In terms of characterisation I don't really believe Mal, he seems flat. The emotion is written, but it's never really felt by me. Coby on the other hand is an absolute delight. Her I can believe. I can feel her conflict at being forced out of her comfortable male persona and into women's clothing and role. I could understand how she didn't like this and didn't really know how to act when pushed into that unfamiliar role. I still struggle with Mal's friend Ned, he just isn't likeable to me, but he may not have a larger role in the story going forward.

There are tantalising glimpses of what may happen and where the story may go in the third and final volume: The Prince of Lies. I will be there, because despite my criticisms of The Merchant of Dreams it was an entertaining enough read and I'd like to see how it all resolves.

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