- Title: The Merchant of Dreams
- Author: Anne Lyle
- Series: Night’s Masque #2
- Genre: Historical Fantasy
- Format: Paperback
- Source: Own copy
- Reviewed by: Erica
- Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Description: Book Two of the Night’s Masque series, sequel to The Alchemist of Souls
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.
Review: I’ve been mulling over this review for a while now, and I’m still a bit stumped and unsure how to keep it from being really short.
Let’s get the basics out of the way: I liked it, though not quite as much as I liked the first book in this trilogy. It was well-written, it read smoothly and there was not a moment where I felt bored and thought ‘yeah yeah, just get on with it already’.
The plot is a bit convoluted. We learned in the first book (spoilers!) that the mysterious beings called skraylings have souls that move to a nearby unborn infant when they die. Since they come from the New World and they often die far away from any other skraylings in England, this means that many of them have ‘reincarnated’ into human bodies, even though the very act of doing so is anathema to the skraylings. Our hero Maliverny Catlyn and his twin brother Sandy share one such soul between them, though Sandy got the larger part. Through this soul they are both able to perform certain skrayling magics, and because of this Mal learns of a party of skraylings who were on their way to establish a treaty with the republic of Venice.
The book covers a number of other characters apart from Mal, such as Mal’s girl-disguised-as-boy manservant Coby, Mal’s friend Ned and Ned’s lover Gabriel. Initially they’re more or less all over the place, but the plot eventually converges in Venice with a suitably exciting grand finale.
Where the book loses a few half stars is in both the characterisation and the sometimes all too convenient coincidences that hold the plot together. (Mal’s elder brother Charles is a known drunk and gambler, yet he waited 25+ years to sell a necklace in Venice just so our heroes can then retrieve it? I don’t quite buy that.) Ned seemed a bit nastier than in the last book, Mal a bit more petulant here and there, a little too fixed on his own wants rather than on what would be the smart thing to do. Certain events that happen are barely explained afterwards, or explained too late, even though the characters ought to be wondering how on earth that just happened.
Still, overall it was an enjoyable read, and a book which kept me effortlessly entertained from start to finish, and which made me go straight into the third book of this trilogy.