Even though I missed the first novel in Anne Lyle’s Night’s Masque trilogy, The Alchemist of Souls, I still thoroughly enjoyed the second novel, The Merchant of Dreams. I do believe it is necessary to read this series in order to to understand the various nuances of The Merchant of Dreams, but I still easily connected with the characters and loved diving into their world. Even better Lyle managed to capture the feel of the Elizabethan era while still managing to revamp the historical events with her fantastical version. All in all The Merchant of Dreams is easily one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while.
Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year.
But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.
When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.
I’m going to be honest, my favorite part of this book was the characters. They are all so rich and complex. And even better they are all dramatic and interesting! Even the characters I’m supposed to dislike because they are “bad guys” are fun to read about. Lyle does an excellent job of making her characters come alive.
Mal is the hero of this story and he’s just the same as ever even though The Merchant of Dreams is set a few years after the first novel. He’s still a witty rogue who accepts his job/life but still complains occasionally. It kind of feels like a running gag and it works. And the dynamic he has with his valet, Coby is what kept me reading. Sure, all the relationships (and there are a lot!) and the other secondary characters are interesting but I just kept waiting for scenes with Mal and Coby.
Coby is by far my favorite. She is possibly the best thing in the whole book. I just seemed connect with her no matter what. And Lyle was able to expand Coby’s character now that Mal was on in the secret. Coby was able to stop worrying about acting like a man all the time (though it did naturally take up a some of her thought processes) and worry about how to be a woman. Something she’s not sure she can do, or is good at, because she’s been pretending to be a man for most of her life.
And that segues neatly to the setting of The Merchant of Dreams. It should be no surprise that I loved the setting since I am a bit of a history geek. Lyle does such a wonderful job of describing the city of Venice and the politics of the time. And her attention to detail is amazing. Even the dialogue, which I’ll admit can be a bit difficult to understand until you get used to it, was appropriate for the Elizabethan period Lyle presented us. And yes, her history is alternative to ‘real history’ but that is where the fantasy comes in. I appreciated the fact Lyle did not overwhelm the beautiful setting and the detailed political maneuvers by talking incessantly about her creations, the Skraylings. Instead she used her creations to enhance and portray a very subtle “what if” world.
The plot was probably my least favorite part but it was not Lyle’s fault. It was my own fault for not having read The Alchemist of Souls yet. Even though some parts were confusing and I couldn’t really understand all the nuances of what was going on I still enjoyed the journey the character’s had to travel.
From the first scene in The Merchant of Dreams to the last I was hooked. The characters are rich and complex, the setting is magnificent and the plot kept me intrigued. Take my advice and read The Alchemist of Souls first. But even if you skip the first in this trilogy you need to put The Merchant of Dreams on your To Be Read shelf…preferably at the top.