Night's Masque #1
by Anne Lyle
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. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?
Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador's bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally--and Mal his soul.
Rating: 4 Stars
To be honest I kind of stumbled over this book, mainly picked it up in the first place because i liked the cover… yes sometimes i am just a simple cover slut!
I did like the summary as well. The book however was for a long time in my shelf unread. When I finally picked it up, I was astounded! Lyle created an alternate universe set in Elizabethan London added some Shakespearean characters and a dash of fantasy. And all of it was done very well! I am so glad now that I liked the cover!! Sometimes being a cover slut pays off obviously ;)
While the summary might give one the impression that this is an action packed fantasy. Well, it's not. It does however move in a pleasant past, lots of its action involve intrigue and deception, there are mysteries (that are partly solved) and even a bit of romance. It's a subtle book, where characters are defined more by their actions than by their expressing their feelings and the fantasy is so well incorporated in a pseudo historical England that one can believe in it.
The plot in itself is cleverly woven and has a couple of twists. It's not unpredictable but it's thoroughly enjoyable. A somewhat classic daggers and cloak tale. It is not an especially fast-paced story, but it is an entrancing one; I just couldn't stop turning page.
However, the romance, while it was sweet, it also was a bit clumsy and lacked a bit of chemistry. My biggest critic though is that I was left with a lot of questions- many to do with Mal's past- despite the fact that the book was ended quite neatly, no cliffhanger or such at the end.
It took me a while to be able to connect to characters, which in my opinion is due to the third person narrator. The POV does also swap between different characters, so getting to know them take a little longer. But saying that, even though it is written in the third person, the three narrators have each their distinct voices- which in my opinion shows how good Lyle is in her craft!
But by the end of the book I was thoroughly invested in the characters. In fact I really like them.
Lyle does approach the characters rather with a subtle hand. So as reasons for their actions unfold, we get to know them and by the end of the book many questions raised about them fall into place. They are well rounded characters and felt rather realistic. Lyle gave them each the world view a person of their status and time probably would have had. Each of them has their own views on politics and religion but none of them are judged.. simply told. I think in fact these are the reason they felt so very real.
Admittedly they are very Shakespearean type characters. But in my opinion that was a plus point.
I really enjoyed Mal's practical stoicism, Coby's practical romanticism, and even Ned's doubtful integrity made him more complex and real.
Mal the handsome rough with a golden heart who is the catalyst to get the others entangled in a web of espionage and intrigue. He is haunted by things that happened in his past and is probably his own worst critic. There are aspects of his past that are still not reveal by the end of this book and I hope that Lyle will reveal them in the next….
Coby the orphan girl that make her living as a tire man, posing as a boy, is brave and loyal. An immigrant to England she is acutely aware of its politics. She is also aware that her guise, while giving her freedom and a way to survive, also might be a possible barrier for any possible future. Her insecurities and worries were so one of the things I really like about Lyles writing. She manages to convey Coby's feelings in manner that make Coby extremely real. I could totally relate to Coby, I think most women will. Since many of her issues are totally universal for many girls in their late teens, Lyle just packaged it into parallel Tudor times
Ned, was my least favorite character for most of the book. I never trusted him, felt he was just a spoilt wimp half to the time… and then suddenly he came through and redeemed himself. And its like I suddenly got what happened before and why he did it all. And forgave him.. yeah you read right. I forgave him. Because that's how invested I got into them!
The world building. WELL! Let me tell you, its probably the best part of the book! It's brilliant. Lyle did not only create an entire parallel Elizabethan England.. she created an entire new species, the skrylings (a term taken from the Norse sagas), complete with their own cultures, histories and believes. And its done absolutely flawlessly! Absolutely brilliant.
The historical part of the novel is just as amazing, it is so well crafted that it makes everything else seem completely real. Lyle brought the Tudor times back to life in every minute detail. She is obviously well acquainted with that time of history. Did I mention its brilliant?
The prose is definitely another favorite part of this book for me. Its simply beautiful. Lyle is fabulous at it. I enjoyed each sentence and am hoping that Lyle will produce many many more books
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