Anne Lyle’s Night’s Masque Series
Anne Lyle’s Night’s Masque Series
I knew nothing about Anne Lyle before reading the first book in this amazing series. But I just knew from the first page that this author was not your run of the mill fantasy writer. One visit to her website proved how right I was. It also told me why her books ring so true for the era that she sets her fantasy series in.
Having grown up literally around the corner from the legendary Sherwood Forest, it is no surprise that from an early age Anne was fascinated by all things Elizabethan. She soaked up anything she could get her hands on that told her more about the fascinating heroes of that time. The town she lives in now, in Nottinghamshire, still has cattle grazing on the common land as it did in the days of Robin Hood. It also has more than its fair share of castles and ancient Tudor buildings. Is it any wonder that the fantasy series she is writing is filled with images of the time and place when heroes wore swords and gentlemen said “M’Lady”?
I had to laugh when I read that although Anne is proud of the fact she knows how to cut a quill and ride a horse, driving a car is still a skill beyond her reach. Or perhaps she simply chooses not to enter that world, who knows? But since she works a day job in the highly technical world of bioinformatics, it is not that she is some technophobe who won’t touch a computer. She simply has a rarified love of the time and place in history that her novels reflect. Although perhaps you could say they are set more in a parallel world of the time of the first Queen Elizabeth.
The Night’s Masque, Book One – The Alchemist of Souls
This first book in the series (there are three planned) is stunning in its lush description, feisty characters and very bawdy and realistic portrayal of Elizabethan London. Mix in the background of the world of theatre during Shakespeare’s time and the fantasy element of an alien species and you get a very interesting world to visit. Anne takes us into all the gritty dirt and dangerous cut-throats of the time.
She also creates a wonderful character with Coby, a Dutch orphan girl who takes on the guise of a young man to protect herself. Although this book was written well before the television show aired, I think a comparison to Game of Thrones Arya is an apt one to make. Feisty and inventive, Coby, like Arya, uses the disguise to keep her safe and give her the ability to act more broadly than a woman could in her era. In the all male world of Elizabethan theatre, being a girl would have been a definite liability.
The story centers on Mal, a sword for hire with connections to the theatre that is hired by the local ambassador. Explorers to the New World have come back with an amazing discovery – Skraylings. Although Anne Lyle takes the name of these alien creatures from the old name that Viking explorers had for the Native American tribes they met, these Skraylings of Lyle’s world are beyond a new tribe. It becomes obvious as Mal comes to meet them through their Ambassador that they are aliens marooned on our world. In many ways they remind me of vampires with their strange needs, and this becomes stronger as we see more of the Skraylings when Mal becomes a bodyguard for the ambassador and through this begins to understand his connections to them.
The mystery, which begins to take shape as we get to know all the characters, is why are they here? What can these creatures whose world and views are so very different from ours want from England? Mal begins to understand better just what has brought the Skraylings to England and his connection to it. Once he begins to understand both their reasons for coming and the culture of the Skraylings, the real questions begins to be, what does he want to do about it?
Night’s Masque and The Gay Elizabethan
One of the things that stood out for me is that Ned, a major character in the series, is gay. Since it was still definitely a death sentence to be openly gay at that time (sodomy was punishable by death) this was a risk for her to take. But in a recent interview she did with I Will Read Books she does say that there were known to be some gay men in the court at that time. The difference was they were powerful enough to dodge the law. But having Ned be gay in the book does give it an added dimension.
In fact, there has been a fair amount of chatter on the net about her portrayal of the underground gay life of Elizabethan England in the Night’s Masque series. That she cared enough about it to want to answer it in her own blog says volumes about Anne as a writer. But then, once you start reading her musings on various aspects of Elizabethan life in her blog posts, you begin to realize just why her books feel so comfortable in this era. The third book is due out this November and I for one am really looking forward to it.
Venice in Book Two - The Merchant of Dreams
The second novel in the series takes place primarily in Venice. I have to say that there could probably not be a better location for this story. Filled with intrigue and mystery, the setting is just as important as the characters here.
Mal and Coby have been living in France following their exile from the Elizabethan court. No I won’t tell you why, read the first book and find out! Suffice to say, there have been some changes since the start of the series for these two. One of them involves a secret that Mal discovered about the Skraylings during the course of The Alchemist of Souls. Now that secret is bringing him dreams, and those dreams include Venice.
The dreams soon become disturbing when Mal discovers that the latest one, where he sees friends in danger, has come true. He goes to Venice to find out more, and in the course of it brings Coby and all he cares about into even more danger.
The fantastic world of the Skraylings is shown with even more detail as are the court intrigues of Venice. Believe me, if you want to write about dangerous secrets and mysterious happenings at the Court of the King, Venice during Elizabethan times is the perfect setting. Anne’s love of this era in history shows once again. There is a bit of a romance in it, but I loved that everything that happens makes sense from the point of view of the characters, and to me that is what counts.
But even here, things don’t always end the way you think. Just as Mal and Coby feel some relief that the dark mysterious events around them have been resolved, a new mystery reveals its head. And a new danger to them all. But we will have to wait until October and the release of The Prince of Lies to learn more.
Anne Lyle’s Night’s Masque Series
The first book of the series with it's Elizabethan theatre backdrop and court mysteries.
The second book, set in Venice. More intrigue, more court settings and lots of Skraylings to enjoy!
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