Alchemist of Souls-Anne Lyle
Novel (Series:Night's Masque)
When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods--and a skrayling ambassador--to London. Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador's bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems.
I loved this. I'm thrilled it's the first of a series even if I have to wait to continue reading it because I want more of it! Well-written with a deft and engaging blend of fantasy and alternative history. The historical novel aspect is well researched with just enough detail to make the whole setting be TUDOR without bogging you down too much which allows you to appreciate the light touch of magic that makes the Skraylings sufficiently foreign without making them incredible which in of itself is incredible.
What really makes this shine is the characters. Each one is well-fleshed out and likeable. They have strengths and weaknesses and you get to know every character so well you could have met them at a party...even the skraylings! The feminist in me is thrilled with her crafty way of making an adventurous female who does things without making such a role in Tudor England implausible. The political intrigue keeps you on the edge of your seat...really, it's brilliant and like a person in the midst of the political intrigue you never know what exactly is going on and where the next strike is coming from. At the same time, nothing is simplified, gender, faith, and family are problems in addition to the strangeness of the Skraylings. The balance between tension and action is kept by the exact pacing. I mean, she begins by world building (with some action) and setting the scene and then just ramps up the tension and plots and character development that races towards a conclusion that is just. great.
I am waiting anxiously for the sequel.
I caught an interview with Anne Lyle who started with the question of how to make a conquest of the New World more difficult after reading Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel which makes this the best reaction to that book ever.