Sep
01
2014
0

The Merchant of Dreams — Anne Lyle — Book Review

Coby and Mal

One of the reasons I wanted a “normal” blog was to write book reviews. That goes back over a year and I’m not going to knife-and-fork every book I’ve read since (although a few will probably get honourable mentions).  However I’ve just finished The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle so thought that a good place to start.

The story is set in a slightly alternative timeline 16th century Europe. For example the first novel in the series (The Alchemist of Souls) is set in Elizabethan England, but one where Elizabeth I is married and has an heir.  However, this novel takes place largely in the Mediterranean an climaxes in Venice.

A key part of the stories are the skraelings.  These are a people mentioned in old Norse sagas who lived in what is now the northern US and Canada.  Their incarnation in the books is as humans with short, stubby tails, tattooed faces and the ability to reincarnate their spirit in successive bodies.

The books’ main protagonist is Jacomina Hendricksdoughter (sp?), consistently referred to as Coby. She’s a Dutch protestant refugee in London who is young enough to don mens’ clothes but old enough to get away with being in charge of the costumes in a travelling band of actors and latterly be Malverny Caytlyn’s errand boy.

Malverny (Mal) Caytlyn (sp?) is a one time mercenary who’s become involved with the skraelings and Walsingham’s infamous spy network.  Really the story is about him, but having Coby as the main protagonist keeps your brain cells jumping.  In addition, the story is also told from other peoples’ points of view, including Ned Faulkner, friend and one time lover of Mal Caytlyn, and Erishan, one of the skraelings.

Historical note: this is a fantasy set in a slightly divergent historical timeline, not an alternative history with a dash of fantasy.  The reason I make this distinction is because I read a review of the Alchemist of Souls which tore apart the book on three counts: a) Queen Elizabeth would never have kept the ambassador from a new people waiting for a week (perhaps in this timeline she does??); b) so she’s married, but where that leaves Mary Queen of Scots and James VI of Scotland isn’t explained (and isn’t relevant so why should it be??); and c) making the skraelings into this magical not-quite-human race is racist because scholars now agree that they’re the people who became the Inuit (despite the fact the book clearly states the skraelings come out of myth, not modern scholarship, and at the time the Norse sagas were written skraelings were regards as weird and magical creatures.

Really, if you’re going to get that anal about the historical bits of the book, it’s not for you.

For the rest of us, it’s an exciting romp through 16th century Europe with a good sense of humour and a well judged level of sexual innuendo which is never explicit but always leaves your imagination to fill in the gaps.

There’s also a good sense of place, whether sailing on the open seas, slumming it in London, or dashing around the twisty allies and canals of Venice. Furthermore, the characters engage the reader and pull you forwards in search of the next twist or unexpected revelation.

However there is one flaw in the whole thing which leaves me feeling really rather flat and not totally excited about getting the third in the series… the plotting.   The storyline seems to be somehow aimless.  It’s as though there’s something going on and the characters are swept up in it, each with his or her own personal agenda through which they influence events, but nothing is ever fully explained.

For example I was left wondering what the connection between Mal, his twin brother, and Erishen was at the end of the Alchemist of Souls.  This only became apparent in the Merchant of Dreams.  Similarly The Merchant of Dreams has left me wondering why the skraelings’ Lost Ones are reated as such pariahs when their history is that they were kidnapped from their homelands by Europeans against their will!

After reading Alchemist of Souls I had similar concerns but decided to give Merchant of Dreams a go just in case the editing had been tightened up.  Sadly, IMHO, it hasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong.  The writing is very strong in description and emotion, especially around Coby, and as said there is a good sense of place established.  However the key plot points aren’t  particularly well signposted and in some cases could even have been accidentally edited out all together.  Sadly, this means that you’re left with an unsatisfying read which leaves you wondering what the actual point of the story was and where the conclusion’s supposed to be.

I have to admit the ending of Alchemist of Souls took me  completely by surprise and just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book.  The ending of Merchant of Dreams isn’t quite so sudden but is still has an air of reaching the nearest possible ending within wordcount rather than reaching the conclusion it was always meant to.

All of which is a pity, because I do like Anne Lyle’s style, description and humour.   I just wish things were better explained, that’s all.

Aug
29
2014
0

First Post

Arriva Route 55 at Chesham Broadway

It’s always difficult to know what to put in a First Post on a blog.  No-one will read it, but it sets the tone and feeling of the blog in your heart.

Best I can do is tell you where I am. I’m in Aylesbury Bus Station, waiting for a bus to take me back to High Wycombe.

The first thought is Aylesbury Bus Station toilets.  Don’t.  Really, seriously.  Just don’t.  Of course I can only speak from personal (ie. Men’s) experience, but it really is foul.  It’s at times like this you realise why continental toilets have a dedicated cleaner whom you’re supposed to tip on the way out.  I’d happily pay £1 just to be able to pee in a place which wasn’t swimming in piss and smelt like an open sewer.

The second thought is “why am I in Aylesbury in the first place?”  Easy peasy … I’ve been to my Men’s Group session at the Whiteleaf Centre. For anyone who don’t know, the Whiteleaf CENTRE is a service provided by Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Mental Health Services.  Yes they have inpatients and no, I’m not one of them.

So I wend my merry way from High Wycombe to Aylesbury every Wednesday afternoon in order to participate in a psychodynamics group therapy. Yes, its working and no, I’m not going to say why.  Not in my first post anyway :)

As for anything else … well I’ve been trying to grasp the content and directions ofithis blog all day.  As a reflection of my life I have no qualms about its depth and breadth, aside from the fact that if I’m sharing that with The World, then I ought to share it with my children.

They know I’m mad, grumpy, strict and, er, eccentric. They know I shouldn’t drink, bit I’m not sure the word alcoholic has attached itself to me in their eyes.

The other word they’ve not heard is depression.  This is whole different kettle. At a time when we’re encouraging our children to be themselves and Shine , it may come as a shock that their Dad is a lost soul who (on good days) just Can’t Be Arsed.

I think that’s a good place to stop.  If I’m going to start posting thoughts and feelings at this level, then I need to be  honest with my children.

Not bad for a resolution from a First Post!

(Picture credit)

Theme: TheBuckmaker.com Wordpress Theme | Self Host your Blog, Music Streaming