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The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle
There is no way to decline a direct assignment from the Throne, so when Mal is ordered to be the bodyguard of the Skrayling Ambassador, the chief representative of a New World race he detests, he will have to work to get his feelings under control and learn to defend what he would rather avoid.
As he spends more time in Skrayling company, and grows oddly fond of the small, gentle Ambassador, Mal will have to work to juggle his duty to the crown, to the Skrayling, and to his own blood- and those interests are not always aligned.
It is no secret that alternate histories are a weakness of mine, and Alchemist of Souls preyed upon that weakness with gleeful aplomb. From seedy neighborhoods and seedier dungeons, to the back-stages and politics of the theater and into the lair of Walshingham himself, Alchemist of Souls slips between fascinating with an era long past, and condemning it.
Mal is a hero despite himself, and will appeal to readers fond of that sort of reluctant crossing from duty to conviction. He is by far the most developed of the book’s characters, some of the others fall a bit flat- more ideas than three dimensional individuals- but it is not hard to lose oneself in the story and gloss over the writing’s rougher edges. It is an enjoyable story and I look forward to reading more from the author.