BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story of Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel leads to final confrontations over the future of England, and themselves.
PROS: Evolving and complicated relationships between the protagonists; convincingly complicated landscape of characters; memorable action scenes.
CONS: Focus and subject matter slightly unexpected; long time frame of novel, while realistic, dilutes story impact.
BOTTOM LINE: A good ending to what will hopefully be the first of many trilogies from the author.
Guisers…why did it have to be guisers?
The Alchemist of Souls, the debut novel from Anne Lyle, reads like an urban fantasy set in a alternate historical London. The Merchant of Dreams, its sequel, reads like an epic fantasy set in a range of locations from London to Venice, expanding the story and world of The Alchemist of Souls. Now, The Prince of Lies finishes Lyle’s trilogy.
The Prince of Lies tightens the focus of the series back on England, and adds family components and court politics to the drama. Although a building threat throughout the series, principals deal with the problems of the guisers, those Skrayling souls reborn into humans. Mal and his twin brother Sandy, of course, are kind of like guisers themselves, with their shared Skrayling soul Erishen. The titular Merchant of Dreams herself was a powerful Guiser subtly manipulating Venice. Back in England, now, the Guisers local to England have big plans to put one of their own on the throne as a succession looms. And of course, the Merchant of Dreams still has her own plots simmering. Even if Mal and his friends were the types to want a quiet life, and not take arms against the threat to the English throne, a quiet life is very unlikely for them to get.
The relationship building and character growth throughout the novel was enjotable. Married by the end of Merchant of Dreams and raising an adopted child with the soul of Ambassador Kirren, Coby’s change from crossdressing valet to dutiful wife of Mal does not go smoothly. This plausibly and engagingly puts the relationship between Mal and Coby front and center in the novel. It grows, it changes, and (given the time frame of the novel) evolves realistically. The Ned and Gabriel relationship, which is relatively placid, is a telling contrast to the more complicated relationship of Mal and Coby. Meanhwile Mal’s brother Sandy, a constant haunting presence in the first two novels, has a nicely awkward relationship with Mal and Coby given Erishen’s bond with Kirren.
The politics of the succession and the future of the English throne feel nicely medieval, reminiscent of the tumult over the succession to Edward VI in its complexity, factional politics and uncertain future for the country. The politics of the future of the crown in medieval times, were always tense, and the author captures that opportunism and danger well in this novel.
The action sequences, though, are the best thing in the series, and Prince of Lies continues that tradition. A country house under siege, chases, escapes, pulse-pounding action on the streets of London, and much more awaits the reader. The swordplay and action sequences, while pulse-pounding, are solidly built on real swordplay and gunplay. It never devolves into unrealistic encounters, and the costs and dangers of sword and gun are never soft-pedaled. In particular, the explosive denouement of the novel is a skilled set piece of character beats, well described action, and exciting confrontations in an excellent location for action shenanigans. Its quite probably the best sequence in the entire trilogy.
The world goes on after this novel closes, showing that history, and even individual lives, aren’t quite as neat and tidy as some novels suggest. In that sense, the end of Prince of Lies is completely realistic. While the ending of The Prince of Lies makes it clear that the lives of the characters are far from over, I suspect that those stories will remain unwritten in the fine playground of the imagination that Lyle has built in this trilogy.