I had originally planned to start this review by with some kind of reference to this being a good example of why people should pay more attention to female authors in the SFF community, but I realised I was doing this book a disservice. This is a quality read and the gender of the author has nothing to do with that. I was always going to read this book as I’ve followed (not stalked, honest) Anne Lyle for a while on Twitter. A nice person who espouses interesting views does not always equate to a good read, but in this case the resultant book is worthy of consideration.
This story has a similar feel to Triumff by Dan Abnett, not just the Elizabethan setting but also the structure and flow. The biggest difference being that where Triumff is more humourous, The Alchemist build more tension. Both to me feel like a play of that period and carry it off well.
The title of the book confuses me. I am not entirely sure who the Alchemist is, or if indeed it is an individual as such. I feel like there is something just out of reach. Did I miss something? Is there all part of the slow reveal across the trilogy? If nothing else I’m going to have to read the second book to find that out.
What makes this book different from a straight Elizabethan story is mainly through the introduction of an exotic race of humanoids with their own distinct culture. On a more subtle level the premise of the virgin queen having grandchildren changes the dynamics and politics significantly. The hero Mal at first seems to be a typical old fashioned fantasy hero who deserves so much better but has the worst luck imaginable. As the story unfolds we find out that things are nowhere near as simple as they seem, and Mal does not emerge emotionally unscathed as the saviour to become a rich and powerful lord.
I am not normally a fan of tidy and mostly finished endings, but I feel the ending fits the story and the way that the story is being told. I could almost see the narrator standing at the corner of the stage reciting the epilogue.
This is a quality fantasy read that will keep you guessing until pretty near the end and yet leave you with enough questions to make sure you add the second book to your wish list.