The Alchemist of Souls
The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle is another book I found via Scalzi’s Big Idea. If any author’s are wondering if writing up a Big Idea piece and getting it on Whatever is a good idea, I would have to say yes–I’ve picked up a number of books that caught my attention there.
In The Alchemist of Souls, Lyle’s main stage is Elizabethan England, but with a couple twists. The big twist is that when the America’s were discovered, the European’s found a more advanced non-human species (called Skraylings) on the east as well as human native Americans. The non-humans serve as an effective buffer to colonization and provide the rest of the twists in the world. Since history is different from the point of contact, differences in history start to make their appearance. For example, Queen Elizabeth was married and has several children. The Skraylings seem to have some abilities that seem like magic to the Europeans. The English need allies against the Spanish and French and so downplay any hints at “deviltry” at work.
With those background details, the main thrust of the book concerns the arrival of the first Skrayling ambassador to England and the appointment of Mal Catlyn as his bodyguard. Mal, Ned (his friend) and Coby (a girl hiding out as a boy in a London theater company) provide the POV characters and are done quite nicely, I thought. Lyle does a good job at showing the motivations and background for these characters. She has a real feel for making the characters authentic.
I enjoyed reading this book and I look forward to the next volume.