The Merchant of Dreams

The Merchant of Dreams

Book Two of the Night's Masque series, sequel to The Alchemist of SoulsExiled 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,...

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Title:The Merchant of Dreams
Author:Anne Lyle
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Merchant of Dreams Reviews

  • Abhinav

    You can find the full review over at my blog:

    Shadowhawk reviews the second entry in the Night’s Masque historical fantasy series by new author Anne Lyle.

    “Full of vitality and some spectacular sequences, Merchant of Dreams is simply fantastic.“ ~The Founding Fields

    When I reviewed Anne’s first novel in this series, Alchemist of Souls, I said at the end that it was a fantastic novel and that I hoped she would deliver on the sequel just as well as she did with

    You can find the full review over at my blog:

    Shadowhawk reviews the second entry in the Night’s Masque historical fantasy series by new author Anne Lyle.

    “Full of vitality and some spectacular sequences, Merchant of Dreams is simply fantastic.“ ~The Founding Fields

    When I reviewed Anne’s first novel in this series, Alchemist of Souls, I said at the end that it was a fantastic novel and that I hoped she would deliver on the sequel just as well as she did with her debut. That was expectation going into Merchant of Dreams and I must say that I really had a grand old time with it. It was a ton of fun to get back into her alternate Shakespearen England setting with the protagonists Mal Catlyn and Coby. Their adventures start off in England all right, but this time the shift is to the city of Venice however as the two agents of the English intelligencery (I probably made that word up) are sent on a mission to the floating city and fall afoul of events beyond their ken and control.

    Anne’s characterisation is still incredible and pretty much flawless, in the sense that I really cannot find any fault with it. Mal is still the charming rogue and peerless swordsman I remember, and Coby is still the outspoken and highly intelligent and capable woman that I met in Alchemist of Souls. There are changes in the personalities for both characters, as they’ve grown quite a bit since their last outing.

    Mal has taken to his new life as an agent of the Empire in Provence, although he still grumbles about it now and then. His relationship with his brother Sandy, formerly a mental patient of sorts but now quite lucid following the closing events of Alchemist of Souls, is also much different than before. Mal still dotes somewhat on Sandy, but the two have also grown apart and Mal has had to live with the changes in his brother, changes that he most definitely does not approve of at all.

    Coby was the real surprise here. Before, she was someone who had to conceal her gender from everyone since she was a woman who worked in a man’s world (and all women actors were forbidden under English law, which did not make it easier for her as someone who worked in an acting company, Suffolk’s Men). A lot of her mental processes were taken up with this effort at concealment, and while we still get a lot of that in Merchant of Dreams, since she and Mal carry on the pretense that she is his male assistant, we also get to see the truly feminine side of her. She has to confront her suspicions and fear of how she has to act and “perform” as a woman, not a man, after years of doing the former. How she goes about doing that is a lot of fun to read and I have to say that her scenes were definitely among the best in the novel by a mile.

    We also return to characters such as Ned Faulkner (Mal’s best friend and also somewhat of a former flame), Gabriel Parrish (one of the actors who was formerly part of Suffolk’s Men and is Ned’s lover), and Ambassador Kiiren (the Skrayling head-honcho in Europe and a friend to both Mal and Sandy). Also, Sandy of course. Seeing all these characters setting out together on an adventure of sorts to Venice is one of the highlights of the novel. Where in Alchemist of Souls the primary focus was on Mal and Coby, in Merchant of Dreams we see a lot more of the secondary characters, which serves to build up the world quite nicely. Ned and Gabriel are excellent vehicles for exploring how the people of the times viewed homosexuality. As with the previous book, the issue is handled with maturity and there are some love scenes between some of the characters, or “almost” love scenes, and it reinforces the fact that while homosexuality was a criminal offense in those times, it was also quite widespread regardless. Ned and Gabriel aren’t just agents for this aspect of the world however, they get to do a lot more than just have fun with each other, particularly Ned as he gets a very good outing with Mal in some of the best action scenes in the novel. Gabriel also serves as Coby’s tutor of sorts in that he “reminds” her how to be a woman since he was one of the most accomplished of Suffolk’s Men’s “women actors”. It is quite an interesting dynamic I have to say.

  • Mieneke

    is the second book of

    . Lyle's debut

    is one of my

    , so I was very excited to be able to crack open or rather tap open my eARC of

    to return to her alternate Tudor England and see how the story would continue. In

    Lyle deepens her world, allows us to travel to foreign parts, and develops her characters further in unexpected but wonderful ways.

    We rejoin Mal and Coby a

    is the second book of

    . Lyle's debut

    is one of my

    , so I was very excited to be able to crack open or rather tap open my eARC of

    to return to her alternate Tudor England and see how the story would continue. In

    Lyle deepens her world, allows us to travel to foreign parts, and develops her characters further in unexpected but wonderful ways.

    We rejoin Mal and Coby as they travel by ship to Corsica to find a ship-wrecked skrayling vessel that has been haunting Mal's dreams and to rescue its crew. From this point in the Mediterranean we travel back to London, to Skrayling-held Sark, and to Venice and follow on several sea voyages. So Lyle very much broadens the stage on which her story unfolds. The one thing that confused me was the deeding of Sark to the Skraylings as that was something that must have happened between the first book and this one, but to me it came rather out of the blue. However, it is a rather clever substitution of the historical Seigneur who was given the island in fief at much the same conditions as the Skraylings were, that also gave them somewhat of a power base in the regions, which could have interesting consequences in the rest of the series.

    This novel's greatest draw for me location-wise was Venice. I always love novels set there, or in cities inspired by Venice, and Lyle does the city justice. She evokes a glittering city, which on closer inspection turns out to be rather tawdry and worn. She also manages to make it feel rather claustrophobic, emphasising its disorientating street plan, its covered alleyways, the waterways, and the cramped conditions on the street in most places other than the large waterways and the piazza's. It felt like Lyle did lots of research and just made tiny little tweaks to what she found to make the city fit in her alternate universe. So much so, that if and when I do visit Venice, I might be surprised that I won't find certain places she described.

    also reunites us with most of the cast of

    . Not only do Mal and Coby return, but Ned, Gabriel, Mal's twin Sandy, and the Skrayling ambassador Kiiren all play parts in the novel. We really get to know Sandy and Gabriel in this book, which was both interesting and entertaining. We also meet the twins' elder brother Charles, who was a surprise and not at all how I expected him to be. My favourite part of this book was Coby's development. In

    , she was very much all about surviving and hiding her true gender. In this book however, Lyle plays around with the need for Coby to drop her boy's guise and resume feminine dress, not because she needs to conform, but because it's necessary to accomplish her and Mal's assignment from Walsingham. This changing back to a girl entails far more than just dropping her disguise and it isn't an easy decision for Coby to make. Lyle explores the pursuant emotions and trepidations with a deft and gentle hand and creates a story line for Coby that I found riveting and compelling. I adored that Coby didn't make this shift to please Mal or make it possible for her to be his openly, but only out of necessity and because she wants to make that decision. She has developed in a strong, well-rounded female lead character, and even though I really enjoy Mal and the others as well, Coby is hands down my favourite character in

    series.

    Lyle also shows us more of the Skrayling culture and magic. We find out about guisers, Skrayling reborn as humans, often by accident, like Erishen, but at times by design, such as Jathekkil in the last book. We learn that this is anathema to the Skrayling and that they'd rather die a true death than be reborn human and that this is also why they wear their spirit-guards. When Mal meets and befriends an accidental guiser in Venice, we are given a character that rather reminded me of Melisande Shahrizai, from the

    books by Jacqueline Carey. She possesses the same attraction and the same danger and unpredictability as Melisande has and I'm looking forward to what will happen with her in the next book. In any case, she teaches Mal how to control the Skrayling magic he possesses, which rather surprised me, as I hadn't expected Mal to want to learn as he seemed to rather ignore that part of himself as much as he could. Still, through these lessons we learn more of the Skrayling magic and I found it really interesting.

    With the plot of

    setting up rather interesting possible avenues Lyle might pursue, while still wrapping up most of the Venetian plotlines, the wait for

    is going to be rather hard. I really want to know what happens now!

    is a fantastic sequel to

    , though it is less self-contained, leaving more open endings than its predecessor. Lyle is a master of blending historical fact and fantastic fiction and she's only gotten better with her second book. Go read

    if you've read the first book, if not, go read

    and then read

    . You'll be glad you did.

    This book was provided for review by the

    .

  • Desinka

    The second installment in the Night Masque series was as good as the first but sadly in suffered from the same lack of an exciting ending.

    The story took us through England and France to Venice, where the intrigue and mystery were deliciously wound and unwound. Though there were no great shocks or surprises, the book was a very entertaining and fast read. Maybe I'm not in awe as some of the happenings seemed contrived and most of the problems that arose were resolved far too quickly, long before

    The second installment in the Night Masque series was as good as the first but sadly in suffered from the same lack of an exciting ending.

    The story took us through England and France to Venice, where the intrigue and mystery were deliciously wound and unwound. Though there were no great shocks or surprises, the book was a very entertaining and fast read. Maybe I'm not in awe as some of the happenings seemed contrived and most of the problems that arose were resolved far too quickly, long before any suspense was created on their account.

    There was a kind of a building up of tension and a climax but the part that followed after that was too long and I totally lost interest in the final couple of events though they clearly were preparation for the plot of the next book.

    Otherwise, I was happy to read about the familiar band of characters. The new additions were interesting, including the mysterious Olivia and the vile Skrayling captain.

    One thing I greatly appreciated was the vivid depiction of Venice of the time. I loved the atmosphere that Lyle created and it was very interesting to learn more about life in Venice in the 1600s.

    Another plus of the book was the wonderful narration performed by Michael Page.

    Having in mind I couldn't put the book down, I could say it was a worthy read despite the slightly anticlimactic ending.

    Rating: 4 stars.

  • Kat

    The Merchant of Dreams is the second book in the Night's Masque series by Anne Lyle. While I didn't read the first novel, I though the premise sounded interesting. Set in Elizabethan times, a group of spies investigate a skrayling delegation to Venice. The skraylings are the native people of Vinland, who have a mysterious spiritual connection between the dream world and reality. Not quite human, they are continuously reincarnated on death. T

    The Merchant of Dreams is the second book in the Night's Masque series by Anne Lyle. While I didn't read the first novel, I though the premise sounded interesting. Set in Elizabethan times, a group of spies investigate a skrayling delegation to Venice. The skraylings are the native people of Vinland, who have a mysterious spiritual connection between the dream world and reality. Not quite human, they are continuously reincarnated on death. The problem comes when some of these skraylings are reincarnated in human form, taking on the role of guisers, who can walk between dreams and reality.

    The story takes a little bit to get into. A great chunk could easily have been cut out of the first act, enabling the characters to get to Venice much quicker. It's in Venice where the plot takes off, with a great setting for a fantasy novel. Anne Lyle does a good job of recreating historical Venice, with the canals and different locations across town. The floating city is full of enigmatic alleyways ripe for hidden assassins and secret business transactions. If you've ever been to Venice, you'd know how much of a labyrinth it is. Without a map, it is so easy to get terribly lost crossing canal upon canal.

    In Venice, Mal and co investigate the possibility of a trade agreement between the skraylings and the Venetians, which is not in the best interests of the English. Along the way he is drawn into the back door politics of the city, through a courtesan who is also a guiser. In a city ruled by men wearing masks, it's hard to uncover secrets.

    Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel are the main characters within the series. I found Mal to be a confusing hero. One minute he's sea sick, the next he's fighting a rapier battle against corsairs on the high seas. Although Mal is intentionally bisexual, he's not exactly monogamous. What's even more confusing is that none of his sexual encounters ever really affect the relationships he has with these people. What happened to no sex please, we're British?

    The side characters are actually more interesting than the main ones. I was drawn to Youssef, the middle-eastern merchant/man of dubious trade connections, who sails across the Mediterranean. Now there would be an interesting spin-off tale. The book is peppered with real people from the era - Sir Walter Raleigh lends a hand to the spies and they receive their orders from Francis Walsingham. Mal is also drawn from an obscure historical figure and filled out with creative detail.

    There weren't enough moments in the story where I felt the characters truly in danger. Only towards the end are we given creatures of the dark imagination, and even then they are thinly sketched. There's a point where the author indicates they look like horses, but then apparently they can open doors? I'm just trying to figure out how horses can open heavy church doors... I wish the characters and monsters were given the same level of detail as Lyle gives to the city itself.

    The most intriguing parts are where Mal falls prey to the guards of Venice, finally at the mercy of someone else's power. I would have liked to see more of these threats, where he is a fugitive in the city, but somehow the threats didn't seem very real. I never doubted that the heroes would get away with their plot. Partly due to the lack of consequences for their actions. Which brings me to...

    Of course, I have no problem with the anti-hero, or even a likeable villain. I think the problem arises when there is no internal consistency about the motivations of these characters. Mal is not strong enough in his beliefs to have a decisive moral code. For Mal to participate in these morally grey actions it requires a certain level of conviction. Is he after power or self-preservation? Or go the opposite way: is he so blinded by the desire to do good that he eventually releases evil?

    If you enjoy historical fantasy, you might want to check out the Night's Masque series. I would recommend reading the first book before The Merchant of Dreams so you can fill in all the details about the characters. Anne Lyle is a clear writer, but the story runs into issues whenever it delves into relationships rather than sticking people with a sharp pointy object. I mean a rapier. Not that kind of sharp pointy object... ugh. You're so dirty.

  • Raina {The LUV'NV}

    Impressed with the first installment of the series, I picked up

    with high hopes and was a bit disappointed. Though

    captured Venice with stellar description and feeling, the plot and main relationship and character development fell to the wayside—for me, at least.

    picks up a year after

    , with Mal and Coby following his dream of a skrayling shipwreck, only for them to discover a massacre of skraylings. They sail to Kiiren

    Impressed with the first installment of the series, I picked up

    with high hopes and was a bit disappointed. Though

    captured Venice with stellar description and feeling, the plot and main relationship and character development fell to the wayside—for me, at least.

    picks up a year after

    , with Mal and Coby following his dream of a skrayling shipwreck, only for them to discover a massacre of skraylings. They sail to Kiiren and Sandy to drop off the lone survivor and fruitlessly discern what happened before they return to England with Sandy in tow. Due to a declining presence of skraylings in England and the alarming, possible trade agreement between the skraylings and Italy, they then sail to Venice—

    .

    After living together in Provence, France, for a year, Mal and Coby's relationship is no closer than what it was in

    , and, though I'm glad it shows they don't "need" each other to grow, there was very little of them together in

    . The ending might justify the separation, but their words were empty and their actions unbelievable, especially after Mal's relationship with a certain courtesan. How can his sexual encounters not affect any of his relationships?

    Similar to the previous book, I found Mal the weakest character and link in the entire story. He never seems to learn anything or suffer the consequences, and once again, I feel he's lucky—he's saved by his friends and acquaintances. Confusing and inconsistent, he lacks conviction and any moral standard. I'll take a ruthless and self-righteous villain over an indecisive, float-along hero any day.

    I can't even consider Mal the hero. If anyone was, it was Ned, for he learns how to fight and, ultimately, pays a huge price. He really grows and redeems himself after his cowardice and betrayal in

    . I also enjoyed Coby's transition into a woman, Gabriel's inner strength and warmth, Sandy's willfulness. Even Charles Catyln, the long-lost older brother—his selfishness made him stronger as a character.

    Gabriel's love for Ned was heartwarming. The warring emotions between Ned and Mal were palpable. Even Mal's relationship with the courtesan was understandable, though I didn't like the use of "prick" in the sex scene—it was completely jarring and off-putting. Most of the relationships were lovely, actually. They simply overshadowed Mal and Coby's.

    There are so many things to like about the book: the use of more historical figures, the guiser from book one making an appearance, how another guiser was introduced in this installment, Walsingham, the Queen spymaster's, daughter had a unique role and history that connected the two books, the correlation between Shakespeare's

    and this book. So many wonderful details but that are never followed through or expanded upon. Even the major events don't join as seamlessly as they do in the first book. The plot and series's arc felt unresolved and disjointed because of the ... clutter.

    paints a vivid picture and creates some great characters—so much so that I might pick up the next book, but only with the hope that she focuses a bit more on strengthening the main character and relationship while wrapping up the little plots.

  • Gavin

    I was disappointed with this sequel to the enjoyable

    . The world building and the Venice setting was good. Unfortunately the plot failed to live up to the setting. The characters, who were so likable in the first book, seemed to be competing to see who could win the prize of most unlikable character in the book! I was very disappointed by the actions of Mal, Sandy, and Kiiren over the course of the story.

    I think it likely that my changing perception of the Skraylings is an

    I was disappointed with this sequel to the enjoyable

    . The world building and the Venice setting was good. Unfortunately the plot failed to live up to the setting. The characters, who were so likable in the first book, seemed to be competing to see who could win the prize of most unlikable character in the book! I was very disappointed by the actions of Mal, Sandy, and Kiiren over the course of the story.

    I think it likely that my changing perception of the Skraylings is another reason why I enjoyed The Merchant of Dreams less than The Alchemist of Souls. In the first book the Skraylings seemed like a peaceful and likable race of creatures. Their magic and secrets making them intriguing and interesting. Now that we have learned more about the true nature of their magic and got to know the Skrayling characters a bit better I find I'm not liking them at all.

    Of the characters only Ned and Gabriel can be proud of how they conducted themselves in this book.

    I'm quite disappointed and hope that the third book sees the important characters like Mal and Coby acting more honorably.

    Rating: 3 stars.

  • Fran Jacobs

    I'm perhaps half way through this but all the things that I had disliked about the first book had faded by this point, but not in this. The plot continues a couple of years after the first one, with Mal and Coby living in France. He's having dreams about the Skyralings. All good.

    Except for the choppiness. In the first one, characters would just randomly do something, and it would lead to something else, also rather random, and that is still going on. One character, a minor one, says something, a

    I'm perhaps half way through this but all the things that I had disliked about the first book had faded by this point, but not in this. The plot continues a couple of years after the first one, with Mal and Coby living in France. He's having dreams about the Skyralings. All good.

    Except for the choppiness. In the first one, characters would just randomly do something, and it would lead to something else, also rather random, and that is still going on. One character, a minor one, says something, and Mal considers a duel, without any real reason, that i could see, for why those words were so offensive. His twin has a book that he shoildn't, there's a tiny argument, and the next thing you know, Coby, Sandy and Gabriel are running off for France. It happens too fast. It happens without emotion. Without reason. There are attacks, randomly. Mal goes outside, two drunks approach him, almost a fight, then it's over. Again, no emotion. Just randomness. No one seems to feel anything, and when it's sad that they're upset, or worried, it doesn't seem believable, because there ar eno thoughts attatched to it.

    There's also a level of stupidity to it. Mal asks Ned whether he has seen any Skyralings. Ned says no, and then alittle more about what htey could do next, and Mal hits him. Don't talk about it in public. Well don'ty bring up the subject, Mal! If it's so important you are discreet, don't bring it up at all!

    And then there's the sex. Ned doesn't like thinking about the people who slept with his boyfriend. But hes happy to try it on with Mal. Mal, who came across as only sleepinbg with Ned in the first one whebn lonely, now seems very up for it, even though he's in love with Coby. i don't mind sex in books. I don't mind gayness (actually i seek it out) but all the references, and hypocrisy regarding it. It makes it hard to care about the characters feelings if their own feelings are so thin for each other.

    I enjoyed the first one a lot. The choppiness, the rush, faded after a while. But as i said, half way through and it's still going on. The plot, well, I'm indifferent to it, because everything is so fast, so quick and i'm finding that rather annoying. It's ok to read, but bnot a patch on the first. I'm disappointed. :(

    EDIT. im bored with it. I might actually quit. the charactyers are annoying me beyond belief. The sex is everywhere, everyone fancies everyone and that seems to be the ONLY thing that's happening.

  • colleen the convivial curmudgeon

    I enjoyed the first book of this series, despite it's flaws, mostly because I liked the characters - even if they were sketched a bit thin. I was hoping that this second book would develop them a bit more but, instead, it's the character stuff - especially the relationship between Mal and Coby - which mostly knocked this down to a 2-star.

    That's not the only issue. There's also the fact that it's kinda slow to get started, and there seems to be a lot going on, especially in the middle, that I'm n

    I enjoyed the first book of this series, despite it's flaws, mostly because I liked the characters - even if they were sketched a bit thin. I was hoping that this second book would develop them a bit more but, instead, it's the character stuff - especially the relationship between Mal and Coby - which mostly knocked this down to a 2-star.

    That's not the only issue. There's also the fact that it's kinda slow to get started, and there seems to be a lot going on, especially in the middle, that I'm not sure really needs to be there. Like,

    I'm also not exactly impressed with Mal's spying ability. I mean, he's sent to Venice to find out what he can about a possible agreement between Venice and some skralings - but his entire plan seems to be to find a way to talk to Kiiren. He does kind of fall into other connections - rather quickly and easily, and I guess it's just lucky that he's a young and strapping dude (?) - but, I don't know, he just never seems to have to work for anything. Even when things go bad and

    things get quickly handled and we move along.

    I think, maybe, part of it is the whole "telling vs showing" chestnut. We're told how Mal feels, and that he has nightmares, and this that and the other thing - but I don't feel like we're ever really immersed in his situation.

    And that goes for everyone, really.

    As to Ned - I thought it might be interesting (though annoying) to see Mal and Ned on an adventure and Coby and Parrish stuck with Sandy - but while Gabriel sort of shone through, I didn't feel like Ned contributed much to the story.

    I sort of feel like him and Coby are in similar positions - a lot of their story is about their feelings for Mal, and their feelings about themselves, but a) these things aren't really developed/handled very well and b) they don't often add much of substance to the larger story (though I will say Coby seems to fair better in this last regard than poor Ned).

    And, finally, there's the relationship with Coby and Mal. As I said, for much of the story they're apart and missing each other - but I felt like, once again, almost all of Coby's thought and feelings are about a) Mal and b) whether to give up her guise and wear female clothing. (There's this whole thing about how once she goes respectable and dresses like a girl apparently she can never disguise herself as a boy again.)

    (Oh, I will say - in the pro column - they dealt with the issue of her monthlies a lot better this time, by

    But, anyway, my real issues start once the two parties converge - and I can't really get into it without ranting and getting spoilery, so you've been warned:

    I just... ugh... This whole thing just pissed me off so much. Nothing about their interactions and everything that happens between them at the end had a shred of emotional resonance.

    And I coulda smacked someone for the whole

    comment.

    So, yeah - until that last bit I probably would've still rated the book 2.5 stars for slowness and general "what's the point of this plot" stuff, but I would've bumped it up to three for enjoyable readability. But that last part just left me so flabbergasted with WTFness that I had to bump it down.

    That said - I'm still gonna read the last book in the trilogy, but I'm gonna pray real hard beforehand that I don't end up wanting to burn the whole set by the end.

  • Marti Dolata

    Started to read but was obviously a sequel requiring knowledge of the first book, so have put on hold until I read the first book.

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