Thursday, 28 February 2013

Anne Lyle - Merchant of Dreams

Anne Lyle - Merchant of Dreams (The Night's Masque #2)

The Merchant of Dreams kicks off where Anne Lyle's great debut, The Alchemist of Souls, left off, but doesn't quite live up to the debut (which, in the interest of fairness, I must admit to having received for free in a giveaway). That said, it is still a very good, romping adventure through the streets of an parallel Renaissance Venice & London, full of plot twists and great action. The biggest draw, however, is Lyle's characters - particularly the three main characters of Ned, Coby and Mal.

Kicking off in London, but swiftly moving to Venice, The Merchant of Dreams follows Mal, Coby and Ned's adventures with the New World, reincarnating fantastic species the Skraylings. Fresh from discovering a plot in London (in the first book) involving 'guisers', Skraylings in human form (of which Mal, and his identical twin brother Sandy, happen to acidently be), they are sent via dying intelligence officer Walsingham to investigate Skrayling dealings in Venice.

While Mal and best friend Ned are split from Sandy, Coby and Ned's partner Gabe Parrish, adventures happen with both groups, both at sea and on land. The scenes set at sea are excellent, and provide both good pacing and settings - the prose is sufficiently cramped and swaying to engage with watery travel.

However, when the groups land, the middle 200 pages drag a little. There are issues with pacing and the plot seems forced at times - there are scenes that are two page long MacGuffins - they serve no purpose in the logic of the world, and at times feel like they have been forced in to make the plot go a certain direction. The prose, too, has moments that feel forced - at times cod-renaissance 'art's and 'thou's and 'Jesu's take away from the plot and my immersion in it - indeed, they are not always coherent and lack a certain continuity. However, once over this middle hump, the action picks up and the conclusion is very well done - we feel the pain of loss and redemption well.

The characters' personalities are, once again, really well built - we know the innermost thoughts and feelings of the three effortlessly, in any given situation. The relationships of Mal/Coby and Ned/Parrish are lovely, and its refreshing to see a gay main character, and a (questionably) bisexual one as well. Further, questions of gender are well written in, easily done with Coby's male-dress/female person combo.

Overall, I'd recommend The Merchant of Dreams if you enjoyed The Alchemist of Souls (which I also recommend...) - however, take it with a pinch of salt: the middle part isn't quite up to the scratch of the character development, the magic system, nor the overall storyline - all of which are excellent.

Overall rating: 3.5*

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