The Prince of Lies, by Anne Lyle [Night’s Masque #3]

Title: The Prince of Lies (Night’s Masque #3)
Author: Anne Lyle
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication date: 29th Oct – 7th Nov 2013 (US/UK)
Rating★ (ー△ー;)

ThePrinceOfLies-144dpiIn this final installment of Night’s Masque I’m not sure what I was hoping for, but I’m not entirely sure I got it. There’s nothing strictly wrong with Anne Lyle’s final book with Mal and Ned: it offers a satisfying end and therefore a good and solid end to the series. I’m just not sure it worked as well as it could have for me.

Things are coming to a head in London and the guisers are gaining power, getting closer to the throne. Mal has been given a Knighthood, Coby and he are married and are raising the young boy into which Kiiren has been reborn. But for now, Kit is just a child and Mal and his new wife are raising him as their own.

Despite thinking Olivia in the hands of Hennaq and being transported back to the New World, the contrary is true and the guiser is, secretly, heading back to London to plot her revenge on Mal. He had better be careful. Especially since Kit, too, is technically a guiser—albeit a young one—and he may prove to be a target if ever his memories show through.

Still, Mal is trying to be happy, adjusting to a life where Sandy has been returned to health, his new wife loves him with all her heart, and the death of Sir Francis Walsingham has left him with very little to do as a spy for the moment. Presently, Mal is attending court and doing all the things that a recently knighted man should be doing.

But nothing is really as perfect as it seems and memories from their time in Venice still haunt them, in particular Ned, whose metal hand is now a constant reminder and the reason his old profession was put paid to. Now he runs a print shop and tries to get by, whilst his lover, Gabriel (yay, #TeamGabriel) continues acting and trying his hand at playwriting—though he still prefers the former.

And Sandy isn’t really Sandy—and Mal knows it. Despite wanting his brother back and whole, Mal knows that as long as Sandy is Erishen, he will never be his brother. Then there’s the matter, of course, of the soul of Erishen that resides still within him. Sooner or later, the soul of the skrayling will need to be re-joined, whatever that might mean for the Catlyn twins.

Of course, there are more pressing matters at hand.

The guisers’ leader, Jathekkil, reincarnated into the body of young Prince Henry Tudor, is part of a plan set in motion far before Mal and his friends were ever involved. Though Mal might think that their enemies are young and weak and that now is the time to strike, he couldn’t be more wrong. The last renegade skraylings will not give up without a fight and with the barrier between the dream world and the waking world wearing thinner over time, victory is not assured.

In this last adventure, lives are in peril and for the first time, contacts and espionage will not save the day. With court life proving a challenge for Coby and tensions rising between her and Mal, several boats are being rocked, and one of them is the throne of England. The guisers want it—and it is now within reach.

The story takes place over a number of years and this somehow turned me off. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how the time passed and this felt awkward and very unbalanced. In places the narrative seemed heavy and sometimes even irrelevant to the larger story, whilst relevant parts of the story were skimmed over so quickly as to be rendered unexciting.

I didn’t think I would end up saying this, but the finale of Lyle’s trilogy was bland and boring. I wanted to get excited, but just couldn’t. The new POV narrative of Kit bored me greatly and I desperately wanted to see more of Mal or Coby, or Ned or Gabriel. Anyone, really.

I felt the passage of time was handled inexpertly and I found it difficult to follow and this began to disinterest me. I appreciate what Lyle was trying to do, in making the final book far more reliant on intrigue and mystery and indeed, discovering who the remaining guisers are, but I feel the bar was set and never reached. I love intrigue and mystery and felt there was none. The Prince of Lies should have been a book where the reader sits glued to the page, following the team through the pages as they work to discover and eliminate the enemy, restricted by the false niceties of court and of moving below the guisers’ radar. It should have been thrilling and tense. Instead it was… not.

I got halfway through when I realised that I was, in fact, bored. I tried to pretend otherwise because I adore Lyle and I adore her work. But there’s only so much of the awkward march of time and lacking narrative that I could take.

However.

The prose is still true to the excellent standard I’ve come to expect and love from Lyle and her characters remain true to themselves. I did feel that some of the rapport was missing, however, and that made me sad. Part of why Mal and co. work so well is their rapport.

This isn’t a bad book, just somewhat disappointing. The writing is tight, the plot is tight and Lyle’s touch is still evident. It doesn’t lack heart.

Mostly I was frustrated by this book, because I was expecting the five-star excellence that I’ve come to love from the Night’s Masque trilogy. This is a good book, with the same characters I love and the same Elizabethan/Tudor (is it Tudor by the end?) setting that has Lyle’s personal touch. It is well-written and suggested a complex plot that wound through a web of secrets, lies and intrigue towards its goal. It did reach its goal and the ending is enormously satisfying, but the execution fell short of my expectations.

Generally disappointed, but still a solid fan of Anne Lyle. Desperately want news of more from her.

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The Alchemist of Souls, by Anne Lyle (Night’s Masque #1)

  • TITLE: The Alchemist of Souls (Night’s Masque #1)
  • AUTHOR: Anne Lyle
  • PUBLISHER: Angry Robot Books
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 5th April 2012

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 first to begin with! I honestly haven’t had this much fun with a book since Douglas Hulick’s Among Thieves. They are very different books, but they share the same sort of cloak-and-dagger flavour.

I must begin by saying that Anne Lyle is a storyweaver of the highest calibre; her elegant prose is nothing short of beautiful. I enjoyed every single second of this book and everything from the characters and their relationships, to the exceptionally tight plotting, to the believable intrigue heralds Lyle as not just an insanely talented new writer, but also a poet and true master of words.

It might be somewhat obvious by now that The Alchemist of Souls was a hit with me. I’ll try not to gush too much hereafter…

I’m very new to real-world or alternative history fantasy—that isn’t of the urban variety—and I am woefully unused to the genre and the way it works, having only read The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, thus far. I’d been under the impression that I might not like a fantasy of this type—that it wouldn’t be “fantasy” enough for me, being set in our real world. In the end, that didn’t matter a jot. The most magical thing about alternate or historical real world fantasy is that anything goes. I suppose that’s why it’s fantasy.

Lyle’s imagination is a vivid and colourful one, and boy does it show through. The Alchemist of Souls offers, alongside the usual life of Elizabethan England, the skraylings—creatures from the New World—and a fashion of alchemical magic and wonder that gives a whole different edge to the story.

The characters are believable and exceptionally well written; there isn’t a single member of the cast who doesn’t vie for your readerly affections—and there certainly isn’t one who doesn’t receive them. I liked everyone. I forget the last time I read a book and liked absolutely everyone. Sure enough, the characters have flaws and the way in which the other characters see them differs depending on POV—it’s interesting and builds a gentle sense of natural conflict and tension that is so very real that it brings the characters to life on a whole new level.

Maliverny Catlyn is the protagonist, and at first glance he appears to be your typical rogue-with-a-fancy-rapier. From a noble line, but down on his luck, Mal doesn’t seem to be anything special, and at first, the supporting cast—player Gabriel “Angel” Parish, scribe, Ned Faulkner, Mal’s friend and Gabriel’s lover, and Coby, a tireman for a troupe of actors with the patronage of Lord Suffolk—seem to be far more interesting and layered. Of course, there is far, far more to Mal than meets the eye—more than even he knows.

Gabriel and Ned begin the story apart, with Ned mooning over an uninterested Mal—but that doesn’t stop Ned hoping—with Gabriel readying himself within his group of players, Suffolk’s Men, headed by Master Naismith for a playing contest, whilst Mal is conveyed to the Tower of London in questionable circumstances, for reasons contrary to his expectations. Meanwhile Coby—Jacob Hendricks—is a young Dutch boy fending for himself whilst holding a treacherous secret to his chest. The events of the story all intertwine and pull the characters closer together, with unexpected revelations and circumstances along the way.

Not one character is under- or overdone and when the viewpoint skips from one to another, there is no sense of lost pace or momentum. All the characters are equally entertaining and with equally riveting plot arcs of their own.

I particularly enjoyed the way Lyle handles homosexuality and gay sex. Since she’s a woman, I’m certain it’s something she’s never experienced, but instead of treating it as something alien, she appears to write simply as though she were writing love/sex scenes between any two characters that share lust or love for one another. And the prose is all the richer for it. I haven’t read many gay sex scenes in fantasy. In fact, the only character I’ve read who is homosexual is The Legends of the Red Sun’s (Mark Charan Newton) Brynd Lathraea. There was something more to the relationships between Lyle’s men, something far more passionate and real.

As a bisexual male, I definitely appreciated a break from swooning maidens and heroes with their eyes agog at the heroine’s fine, fine cleavage. It was a refreshing change, and a fantastic reminder of how much closer men used to be with one another, in light of the role women played, historically, in Lyle’s chosen time-setting. If we’re not mincing words; I bloody loved it.

There are more twists, plots, and subtle machinations in The Alchemist of Souls than you can shake a pointy thing at—and damn does Lyle write every second, every detail, every thread so impeccably well that you’d think she’s been writing books for centuries. Yes, she’s that good.

It has been a long time since I encountered an author whose work I would describe as poetry also. Anne Lyle is one such author. The Alchemist of Souls, as a work of elegant fantasy prose, should be considered alongside Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and (by my favour) Elspeth Cooper’s Songs of the Earth.

Anne Lyle’s writing is beautiful, elegant and gripping; be prepared to be swept away to a rich and colourful depiction of a different Elizabethan England, where treachery and danger abound.

5/5