Skraylings! I don’t think I’ve read a book with skraylings, or anything much like them, since Elizabeth Boyer’s books that I haven’t read in a Very Long Time Indeed but still have on my shelf because fond memory tells me they were pretty darn good.
Anne Lyle’s THE ALCHEMIST OF SOULS is nothing like those books, though. I’d say it’s more grown-up, but that’s kind of a disservice to the Boyer books, which were of their time, just as Lyle’s novel is. I just really, really *enjoyed* ALCHEMIST being of its time, and also being an alternate-Elizabethan-England story, because how can you go wrong with that?
Turns out you can’t, at least if you’re Anne Lyle writing this book. The worldbuilding is wonderful, with loads of little touches of 450-year-old culture, and that’s just in the non-fantasy aspect; the skraylings themselves, alien/elf-like creatures from the far reaches of the New World and the north, are culturally separate from humanity in interesting ways, and with some unexpected twists that I loved both in terms of story development and how nicely they tied in with the book title.
I have to admit I was surprised when I started reading the book, because it opens with a man’s POV, then switches to another man’s POV, and I was like, “…this is not what I’m expecting from this writer,” although honestly I don’t know anything about Anne Lyle save for an interaction or two on Twitter. It just wasn’t what I expected from a modern female fantasy novelist, apparently. It was wonderfully well written, and I *liked* the characters being introduced, so I wasn’t going to stop reading, but I was surprised.
By the end of the third chapter (possibly before, I’d have to check), the third main POV character, a woman, had been introduced, and enough character development and explanation had happened that I was no longer surprised or confused by my liberal expectations of the book being upended; they were, in fact, fulfilled, just not in quite the way I’d expected them to be. So go Ms Lyle. :)
ALCHEMIST OF SOULS came out in 2011 so I don’t actually have to wait (save for the fact that I’ve got a TBR shelf to get through) to read the next one, which I most certainly plan to do. I was really pleased, though, that ALCHEMIST didn’t end on a cliff-hanger. It finished its story, although there are lots and lots of threads available to follow for more books, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop. Yay for good books!