The second book in the Elizabethian alternate history/fantasy Night Masque.
Publication year: 2012
Page count: 526
Publisher: Angry Robot
This series is set in the latter years of the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. However, this Elizabeth married Robert Dudley and has children with him. Now, Prince Consort Robert is dead and the Queen is in mourning while everyone flocks to their future ruler the Prince of Wales (also named Robert). But most of the book isn’t set in England so the English court isn’t a significant element in the book, except that the characters work for Lord Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s spymaster who is also elderly and in danger of dying.
Maliverny Catlyn, Mal, is a swordsman and a minor lord whose father is English and mother French. After the events in the “Alchemist of Souls” he had to flee England and spend time in France with his servant Coby. Coby is actually an orphaned girl who dresses as a boy in order to support herself. She’s also fallen in love with Mal and Mal with her. However, Coby doesn’t want to become officially a girl again, with all the limitations. So, she still keeps her disguise and they aren’t a couple.
The book starts with Mal and Coby sailing to Corsica. They’re looking for a lost skrayling ship and find out that the ship has been raided and the crew taken prisoner by the Corsicans. They save whom they can and head back to England.
Skraylings are strange creatures from the New World who use magic and most Europeans don’t want to deal with them. However, England has made a trade alliance with them which seems to be very profitable. But Walsingham has gotten word that now Venice is negotiating a treaty with the skraylings, as well. He fears that they will break their alliance with England, so he sends Mal to Venice to find out as much as he can.
Mal’s twin brother Sandy has been in a madhouse for the last decade but now he has gotten out and the skraylings have been healing his mental troubles. Mal is still very worried about Sandy and leaves Coby with him to London. Mal takes with him his old friend Ned Faulkner. But the way to Venice by ship isn’t easy. Soon after Mal and Ned leave, Coby, Sandy, and their friend Gabriel have to flee London, too.
We find out a bit more about the skrylings this time. They’re magic centers on dreams and they can also be reincarnated as a skryling or a human. Interestingly enough, I got the feeling from the first book that contact between humans and skrylings is a new thing but now we find out that there are skrylings who have been born into human bodies for centuries.
The best thing about this book was Venice. The descriptions were great and the city had the atmosphere of danger and scheming. We’re also introduced to a lot of new characters. I particularly liked the Hayreddin’s Captain Youssef whom we see only briefly.
The book has three POV characters: Mal, Coby, and Ned. Ned is a scribe turned into a spy. He’s Mal’s former lover and Gabriel’s current lover. He’s very suspicious of the skrylings and foreigners. But he’s a very loyal friend, even though and Mal even teaches him to use a sword. Gabriel is an actor and very handsome young man. He’s played a lot of women’s roles in the theater and when Coby thinks of using women’s clothing, she has to ask him to teach her how to act as a woman. This was very ironic but the we didn’t see much of it.
Some of the chapters felt a bit episodic and there were things which felt a bit out of place but I guess those will be resolved in the final book. I didn’t really care for the proposed love triangle and though that Mal was just being an ass. Otherwise, this was a very entertaining read and the plot moved along most of the time at a nice clip. The final couple of chapters set the stage for the next book.