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The Merchant of Dreams: Anne Lyle

cover of The Merchant of Dreams, a young man/woman holding lantern and pistol in a dark Elizabethan alleyBack cover:
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.

Mal is asked by an ailing Walsingham to spy in Venice on the skraylings, because England is concerned that an alliance with Venice might mean less profit for them, who need it. Mal and his friend Ned travel to Venice, while his valet Coby, his twin brother Sandy, and Ned's partner Gabriel stay in England. Things go awry, however, and all of them end up in Venice. While Mal and Ned try to find out what the skraylings are doing, and meddling with high society there, Coby and Sandy escape pursuit by fleeing to Venice.

Perhaps it is because I picked up the second book, and I was missing a lot of information, but I couldn't figure out what "guisers"--major antagonists--were, till about the last sixty pages. In general, the parts about the skraylings, Mal's problems, his brother's problems, were all little explained. And it made caring about their struggles hard.

What I did enjoy some of the characters--Gabriel and his lover Ned, who are sweet and funny; one of them is trying to be a playwright and both are involved in the theatre business. Venice was nicely done too, and Raleigh. However, I didn't like how Coby's story arc went. She dresses as a man day-to-day, it's never quite explained why. (Only a few know.) Perhaps to make things easier to do what she wants? Anyway, it ends up with her marrying Mal and thereby blowing her cover forever, not just once. I liked her in disguise far better. And Mal's twin's anguish over losing his soulmate was unconvincing because skraylings can reincarnate again, usually. Death hurts because it's final and there's no coming back. That's the part that cannot change. To do otherwise means I expect him to come back and wrecks most of my sympathy, as horrible as that sounds.

Lyle does some different things with gender and sexuality. I don't think skraylings even have gender (see aforementioned holes in knowledge though) and they seem to find it interesting humans do. When they reincarnate into humans--this is what a guiser is--they may either be female or male, and Olivia remarks that she enjoys the female body (soft) but isn't happy about the way women hold approximately 0 political power in Venice. And there are Ned and Gabriel, of course.

It was all right, neither bad nor good. I'm not picking up any of the books in the series. 6/10

Crosspost: http://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/147164.html.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2014 10:07 pm (UTC)
I have to admit that I cringed hard at "a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.", because of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skr%C3%A6ling Could be unrelated, though, but I have my doubts.
Jan. 15th, 2014 10:17 pm (UTC)
Oh...that is very unfortunate. Argh, I love you alt-history fantasy Europe, but why must the inhabitants of the Americas be inevitably "Other"?!
Jan. 16th, 2014 09:20 pm (UTC)
Iirc, Kate Elliot's Cold Fire/Cold Magic/etc trilogy has dinosaur lawyers and people in the Americas, but yeah, it is kind of annoying the way Native Americans are Othered in alt-history/fantasy Europe.
Jan. 16th, 2014 11:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's the one I was thinking of. I don't like the trend. They may be cool but why aren't they human?!

(Though she does at least have humans in the Caribbean/Central America area.)
Jan. 17th, 2014 09:54 pm (UTC)
I may be remebering and I've only read the first one, but when Cat meets the dinos, I was happy when they mentionned the humans in the Americas because it wasn't Other!Native Americans. So I remember that trope as not applying to those books.
Jan. 19th, 2014 01:27 am (UTC)
I thought there were not really humans in the northern parts of America, but there are definitely people in Central America and the Caribbean.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )



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