Review: Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle

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Well-Known Member
Oct 20, 2013
14th June 2013 05:39 PM

Brian Turner


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 really enjoyed Anne Lyle’s first novel, Alchemist of Souls, so I was very much looking forward to reading the sequel, Merchant of Dreams.

The plot continues from the first, and with the same characters – excepting that this time, the focus for the setting moves from London to Venice.

Every author has a particular strong point, and for me Anne’s is setting: when her characters walk the dirty streets of Elizabethan London, they feel authentic; when they sail the mediterranean, you feel the salt in the waves and the hot sun in the sky; when they explore the plazas and canals of Venice, you are there.

Now that the characters have been introduced in the first book, it’s easier to settle into them here – they’ve grown, feel more defined, and the antagonisms introduced previously have increased.

The relationship between Mal and Sandy develops further, Ned is a much more sympathetic character, and Coby is still torn between material and spiritual desires.

Add to this the complex relationships of the Skraylings: Kiiren, Erishen, and various Guisers and the result is plenty of character tensions.

Very enjoyable though Merchant of Dreams was, I am a very exacting reader – and as with any book I read, there were a couple of niggles.

There are a lot of background tensions set up at the start. However, after defining these early on, they seem to be of little concern towards the end. Admittedly, the characters have more immediate issues to deal with by then, but it would have been nice to see more internal conflict on these issues regardless.

The strong points really stand out, though. The settings are wonderful, the characters are growing and changing in a way beyond many authors, and the tensions between the English and Skraylings become increasingly complex the more you learn about them.

There’s also the added bonus of a delightful characterisation of Sir Francis Drake.

This makes it feel as though everything about the story continues to grow and change and develop that in a way we don’t normally see in other novels.

Personally, I think we’ve recently seen a small but significant number of “New Wave Fantasy” authors published in recent years: Joe Abercrombie, Douglas Hullick, Scott Lynch – and Anne Lyle.

They seek to write new and interesting stories, that have a greater feeling of realism without sacrificing a sense of mystery, and keep away from those terrible Role Playing Game tropes that infect much of the genre .

That doesn’t mean to say that Merchant of Dreams is “grimdark” or otherwise edgy – at its heart is a fun adventure story – but it still feels like it’s expanding on what the fantasy genre can achieve.

That’s not just because of the way in that it addresses issue of sexuality – which actually feels somewhat quite muted in Merchant of Dreams – but because we simply do not see those cardboard stereotypes that are the staple of pulp fiction writing.

Merchant of Dreams demonstrates Anne Lyle’s growing importance in the genre, and I sincerely hope the third and final book in this trilogy will underline this. In the meantime, here’s waiting patiently for Prince of Lies.