A seemingly down-on-his-luck nobleman, Mal is the son of a British ambassador, with more sword skills than you can thrust a rapier at. He is pressed into service as bodyguard for the Skrayling ambassador, and yet his reticence to serve seems to run deeper than the usual distrust of strangers.
Author Anne Lyle is clearly passionate about the time period, and the sights, sounds and smells of Elizabethan London gently ease off the page, and lure you into the winding, dangerous streets, busy markets and suspicious public houses.
When the Skraylings were first introduced, I worried that an alien race would take the novel too far into ridiculousness, but it's very easy to believe in these creatures - they are no more alien than any foreigner in Britain at that time, and may well be a comment on current immigration politics.
When the Skraylings were first introduced, I worried that an alien race would take the novel too far into ridiculousness
The novel is pitch perfect with a great balance between action, adventure, exposition and soppy love stuff. The plot moves along quickly, introducing characters and developments constantly, but with enough pauses in public houses for exposition to let the reader catch up. The usual Elizabethan suspects are present; Shakespeare, Marlowe, Walsingham, Suffolk and Queen Elizabeth I herself, but the old politics we know are disrupted by the presence of the Skraylings.
I whizzed through this tale in just a couple of days, and went out of my way (i.e. visited two Waterstones in different boroughs) to pick up the second The Merchant of Dreams. Luckily, it's not a long wait until the third in The Night's Masque series, The Prince of Lies, out on the 7th of November.
Amelia reads on the train, in between hunting for cupcake cafes and talking about social media, on social media.