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Andrea K Höst

Australian writer of science fiction and fantasy.

The Alchemist of Souls (Night's Masque Series #1)

The Alchemist of Souls - Anne Lyle 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 clan of) the skraylings.The plot revolves around three people. Mal, who has been specifically requested as a bodyguard by the skrayling ambassador. Coby, a girl-dressed-as-a-boy working for a theater company. And Ned, Mal's good friend. Many plots begin revolving around Mal after his appointment, and Coby and Ned are drawn into them in his wake. Things are far more complex than any of them realise.The story very successfully conjures the uncertainty and powerlessness of the landless and poor during Elizabethan times, and the culmination of the story is quite interesting, but I kept putting the book down and not picking it up, so I guess overall it didn't click with me.A couple of things which made me a little uncomfortable were the use of an actual-world word for Native Americans for a non-human race, and the general womanlessness of this world. There are quite a few incidental women in the story, but Coby is the only one who matters enough to be a person to the reader (and she's basically 'the helpful love interest', while Mal is the person who is the interesting/important one). Even the Queen is off-scene and not directly involved in much of the story.At any rate, I think this is a solidly-told story, which just didn't click enough with me.