THE MERCHANT OF DREAMS:
Night’s Masque Volume 2.
By Anne Lyle.
Mal Catlyn has been living in France since the political incidents that led him to accuse a powerful nobleman of treason against the crown and then seek refuge elsewhere. But part of the skrayling Erishen’s soul is still living inside him and his brother Sandy becomes more and more lost to him as time passes. Mal can’t put things off any longer; it is time to find Ambassador Kiiren and resolve things once and for all.
Coby has been accompanying Mal on his adventures, in her usual disguise of Jacob Hendricks. Acting the part of Mal’s valet in public and his friend, and perhaps more, in private, the pair are once again caught up in the mission to find a way to free Erishen’s soul. Unfortunately it seems this time her disguise is not working for them and revealing her true self may be the answer. Coby soon finds herself having to deal with the irony that after spending so long learning to live as a male, the prospect of being a female in public is daunting to say the least.
In this second book Coby’s character was developed more fully and I had much more of a sense of her desires and motives which helped in empathising with her to a greater degree. This time around she felt very much an equal to Mal and less a supporting character to his lead. The skraylings too became a clearer race to understand and some of the questions raised in book one relating to their abilities and motives were answered.
Whereas The Alchemist of Souls took much of its strength from the strong representation and grounding of its setting in London, The Merchant of Dreams plays out in more diverse settings, from the seedy streets of 16th century Venice to the decks of a pirate ship and the limitless world of the skraylings’ dreams. This differing landscape injects the story with more vibrancy. There is a faster pace and much more of a sense of tension and immediacy to this second instalment.
The Merchant of Dreams has a satisfying ending despite the pain and tragedy the characters suffer throughout the story, and as I read the last few pages I got the distinct feeling that there is an even bigger and tougher adventure yet to come in the concluding part. The exploration of gender, relationships (both political and personal) and sacrifice continue in a historical fantasy that is as light-hearted and entertaining as it is deep. Perhaps its most admirable quality is Lyle’s willingness to explore and represent the minority in a realistic and unashamed manner.