Warning: This review may contain spoilers of the previous books.
The Prince of Lies, by Anne Lyle, finishes up the NIGHT’S MASQUE trilogy with plenty of magic, adventure and suspense. I wish it had more skraylings in it. I should be more specific. I wish it had more skraylings in their native form. Instead Mal Catlyn, his wife Coby and twin brother Sandy must uncover and defeat the skraylings known as “guisers;” humans who are possessed by skrayling souls that entered their bodies instead of a skrayling infant’s, the normal process for their race. This particular group of guisers, who have been in Europe longer than most people realized, have plans to rule England.
Lyle tweaked the historical line of succession in the first book, The Alchemist of Souls, by creating a seventeenth century England where Queen Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley and they had two sons. The elder son and heir apparent has two young sons who play major roles in this story.
Mal and his family, including his adopted son Kit, have returned to Britain from Europe. Mal desperately wants to stop the guisers’ plan, but he and Sandy are regarded with suspicion by many at court because of their close relationship with the skraylings. Although humans enjoy the skrayling technology brought from the new world and really want to exploit that continent’s resources, they are wary of the non-human race and its magic. Mal and Sandy, between them, share the soul of a disincarnate skrayling, Erishen, and Kit is the vessel for Kiiren, Erishen’s lover and the former ambassador from the skrayling delegation to Britain. The only thing that makes them different from the guisers, really, is that their human selves still have autonomy and they have no desire to stage a coup.
The Prince of Lies is engrossing. As in the historical Elizabethan period, the court and the countryside is filled with various factions. There are the guisers, and those like Mal and Sandy who carry Skrayling souls and have no desire for power; there are the Huntsmen, a Humans-Only group who hate the skraylings. They hunt and kill skraylings. When Mal enlists them to help him capture a guiser nobleman, he gets more than he bargained for. At court, he must also deal with Olivia, a guiser he first met in Venice. Coby takes a position as lady-in-waiting to the Princess Juliana, which unfortunately brings Kit to the attention of the two boy princes.
The book takes place over several years, mainly to let Kit mature enough to be a major player. Once he does, the plot really gets rolling.
I enjoyed the court intrigue. All the magic — human alchemy, skrayling magic and a strange hybrid of the two — is fascinating, especially the use of the dream realm, where the skraylings travel with ease. The action is good. I wish the non-guiser skraylings had played a bigger part, especially since Lyle goes out of her way to introduce a female skrayling, something we haven’t seen in earlier books. Sadly, the skraylings are relegated to bit players, coming on stage occasionally to impart a bit of information. Likewise, William Shakespeare makes a couple of appearances, slightly more than cameos, but doesn’t really affect the action.
Lyle successfully wraps up the story of the Catlyn brothers, and brings the series to a close. Having introduced such interesting non-humans in the skrayling, she falls short in resolving their relationships with humans. The final paragraphs of the book imply that while the battle is over, there is still a war with the guisers brewing.
I was disappointed that we didn’t learn more about these unusual creatures who inhabit the North American continent, but the Elizabethan aspect of these books is well done. The complex relationship between Mal and his brother is resolved by the end of this book, and the love relationship between Mal and Coby grows from the infatuation in the first book to a true marriage, where people have problems, weather adversity and grow stronger together. These books will be a tasty treat for anyone who likes their fantasy with a heavy dose of court intrigue and swordplay.