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The Merchant of Dreams – Giveaway, Part 2

Update: congratulations to winners Paul, DeeDee, Gwen and Abhinav – your goodies will be on their way soon!

As announced last week, I have a stack of copies of The Merchant of Dreams just begging to be given away, so here’s the second batch!

This time it’s a worldwide giveaway, open to anyone anywhere. I have two copies of the US paperback to give away, plus two single-CD (MP3) copies of the audiobook, read by the excellent Michael Page.

All you have to do to be in with a chance is to leave a comment on this post, and say if you prefer the paperback or audiobook (or either). Please note that comments are moderated to reduce spam, so don’t panic if yours doesn’t appear right away.


  1. One comment per entrant, please – multiple commenters will be disqualified.
  2. For security reasons, please don’t leave contact details in your comment – there’s a space in the comment form for your email address, I’ll use that to get hold of you.
  3. Closing date for entries is noon PST on Tuesday 28th January. Any comments posted after that deadline will be deleted.
  4. I will be picking four separate winners (using a random number generator), to receive one copy each.
  5. Selected winners must respond to the confirmation email by Thursday 7th February, so that I can get the books out in a timely manner.
  6. If a winner does not respond by the stated deadline, I reserve the right to select a replacement.

Good luck!


The Merchant of Dreams – Giveaway, Part 1

Update: congratulations to Dave, Herdis, Lucy and Steven – your goodies will be in the post soon!

My author copies of The Merchant of Dreams turned up the other day, so I thought it was about time I did a giveaway. In fact I’ve got so many different editions, I decided to do two!

First up is a UK/EU giveaway for the benefit of my fans here who waited so patiently for the UK paperback. I have three paperbacks (UK edition) to give away, plus one 12-CD set of the audiobook. As with The Alchemist of Souls, the audiobook is read by the excellent Michael Page.

A second giveaway open to the rest of the world will follow next week.

All you have to do to be in with a chance is to leave a comment on this post, and say if you prefer the paperback or audiobook (or either). Please note that comments are moderated to reduce spam, so don’t panic if yours doesn’t appear right away.


  1. You must live in the EU to enter (sorry – worldwide postage gets expensive)
  2. One comment per entrant, please – multiple commenters will be disqualified.
  3. For security reasons, please don’t leave contact details in your comment – there’s a space in the comment form for your email address, I’ll use that to get hold of you.
  4. Closing date for entries is noon UK time on Tuesday 22nd January. Any comments posted after that deadline will be deleted.
  5. I will be picking four separate winners (using a random number generator), to receive one copy each.
  6. Selected winners must respond to the confirmation email by Thursday 31st January, so that I can get the books out in a timely manner.
  7. If a winner does not respond by the stated deadline or cannot supply an EU postal address, I reserve the right to select a replacement.

Good luck!


Merchant of Dreams – the official wallpaper

Earlier this year I released desktop wallpapers of the lovely Alchemist of Souls cover art by Larry Rostant, and they proved rather popular. Since I love the cover of The Merchant of Dreams even more, I thought I’d better do the same for it!

So, here’s the lovely Jacomina “Coby” Hendricks for your computer-decorating pleasure. Just don’t say anything ungallant or she might cock that pistol of hers…

I’ve created two versions, one widescreen (8:5) and one standard proportion (4:3), both in sizes large enough for all but the biggest monitors.

1600 x 1000 | 1280 x 960


Full credits

Cover art © Larry Rostant at Artist Partners

Background texture & lettering by Marc Gascoigne

Angry Robot logo © Angry Robot Books

Design and novel excerpt © 2012 Anne Lyle

The Next Big Thing

I tried to slither out of this at first, but then I woke one morning at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep, but couldn’t get into the writing groove either, so I thought I might as well give it a go! The Next Big Thing is a blog post chain for writers. You talk about your work-in-progress (or in my case, about-to-be-published novel) and then tag five other writers to carry the torch forward. It’s been going a while, so practically every writer on the planet has already done it – soon we’ll have to start linking back to existing posts and it’ll go all Ouroboros on us…

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The Merchant of Dreams. That’s the official title, btw 🙂

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s a sequel to my debut The Alchemist of Souls, so it picks up where that book left off. Also, I’d always wanted to set a novel in Venice, so I just needed to work out how to get my characters there!

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Historical/alternate history fantasy.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmm, I’ve debated this one a lot, but eventually I came down in favour of Aidan Turner (Being Human, The Hobbit) to play Mal, especially after seeing photos of him as Kili (below). He has the right mix of charm, intensity and darkness to play my swashbuckling hero and his mentally unstable identical twin brother.

I’ve also cast a number of other actors in my head: Dominic Cooper (The History Boys, Captain America) as Ned Faulkner; Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) as Robert, Prince of Wales; and Bradley James (Merlin) as his younger brother Prince Arthur. And whilst it would require a significant makeup job, I totally envisage Seth Green (Buffy, Austin Powers) as Ambassador Kiiren 🙂

Aidan Turner (as Kili in “The Hobbit”)
Aidan Turner (as Kili in “The Hobbit”)

The character I have most trouble with is Coby Hendricks, my girl-disguised-as-a-boy; someone suggested Olivia Thirby (Juno, Dredd) but it would depend if she could do the accent!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck proves a reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s represented by John Berlyne of Zeno Literary Agency, and published by Angry Robot Books. It will be out in ebook, audiobook and US paperback on 18 December 2012, and UK paperback on 3 January 2013.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I did the very first draft for NaNoWriMo, back in 2007, so technically, only a month. However I had to completely rewrite it from scratch; not only was it far too short at only 50k, but the previous book had changed substantially in revisions so the plot no longer fitted. The new draft took about eleven months, although I had to take time out to edit and promote the first book so it wasn’t a non-stop process. Actual hands-on writing time was probably nearer seven months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The closest ones I can think of are Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series and Mark Chadbourn’s Swords of Albion. Like the former, several of the main characters are gay or bisexual, and like the latter it revolves around the Elizabethan secret service.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The city of Venice – I absolutely love it! It’s hardly changed in the last four hundred years, which makes it perfect for any writer of historical fiction, realistic or fantastical.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s probably one of the few Elizabethan fantasies that doesn’t feature either fairies or William Shakespeare (though the Bard does have a couple of cameos in the third book of the trilogy). My “magical beings” are a race of non-humans called skraylings who evolved in the New World at around the same time that humans appeared in Africa. They now live alongside the Native Americans, acting as go-betweens and traders, and since Columbus showed up and the Spanish started hassling them, have allied themselves with the English in an attempt to keep the Europeans out of the Americas.

Right, that’s my bit done – time to pass the torch to my victims, ahem, writer buddies:

Adrian Faulkner

I first met Adrian at EasterCon 2011, I think – he’s a great guy, and like so many people I met that year he now has a book deal! His first fantasy novel, The Four Realms, is due out from Anarchy Press in late December.

Jennifer Williams

Jennifer is another convention buddy, this time introduced to me by fellow Angry Robot author Adam Christopher. Her fantasy novella The Copper Promise has been self-published on Amazon, and I know she has plans for more stories in that world!

Jacey Bedford

Jacey was a fellow panellist at EasterCon 2012, where she impressed me with her witty rejoinders! Like me she writes swashbuckling alternate history fantasy, but Regency instead of Elizabethan – really looking forward to that one!

You’re supposed to link to five others, but this meme’s almost played out and I didn’t have time to hunt down any more. Bite me!

The Merchant of Dreams: publication date confirmed

I’m very happy to announce the publication date of the second book in the Night’s Masque trilogy, The Merchant of Dreams.

Ebook & US paperback: 18 December 2012

UK paperback: 3 January 2013

Now, before you grumble that the US is getting the paperback edition ages before the UK, the explanation is simple. Usually the US publication date is near the end of the month, but that means a Christmas Day launch date, which is less than ideal! So, the US date has been brought forward a week, whilst the UK date has to remain where it is to, again, prevent a clash with Christmas. All clear? Awesome.

Below is the (draft) back cover text:

Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year. But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice—and a conflict of loyalties that will place Mal and his friends in greater danger than ever.

So, all I need to do now is finish writing the damned thing! Wish me luck…

The Merchant of Dreams: finished cover

Last week I got my first glimpse of the gorgeous cover art for Book 2 of the Night’s Masque trilogy, and thanks to some hard work by artist Larry Rostant and Angry Robot supremo Marc Gascoigne, I’m now able to reveal the finished article:


As you can see it features Mal Catlyn’s partner in crime, Jacomina “Coby” Hendricks, ready for action on the murky streets of a certain Italian city…

I’m particularly pleased with this cover, as I really wanted Coby to feature on it since she again plays a significant role in the book. I gave Marc a detailed brief of what I envisaged, and he and Larry have translated that perfectly. The timing is also ideal, as I’ve just started work on the final revisions, and this image is really going to help focus my imagination on the atmosphere I want for the book.

The Merchant of Dreams is due to be published in spring 2013 – watch this space for more news!

Research trip: Venice

The Grand Canal at sunset
The Grand Canal at sunset

This year my focus has been on the second book in the Night’s Masque trilogy, The Merchant of Dreams. As the title hints at, this installment is set (partially) in Venice, a favourite city of mine. However I haven’t been there since 2003, so I was very keen on making another visit to do some research – and of course enjoy some fabulous Italian food whilst there!

We flew out the evening after FantasyCon, which was perhaps a mistake – I soon discovered that I had a dose of “con crud”, and the flight over the Alps was rather painful with bunged-up sinuses. However I kept my cold under control with regular doses of echinacea and paracetamol, and overall the trip was wonderful. The city was as beautiful and atmospheric as I remembered, the perfect setting for a historical fantasy novel.

Ca' Malcanton, a medieval Venetian house
Ca' Malcanton, a medieval Venetian house

First up: our accommodation. I found this place online, and the idea of staying in a real Venetian house rather than a hotel was irresistible. I haven’t decided yet whether this exact house will appear in the book or whether I will just use some of the details, but either way, it was a useful part of my research as well as a brilliant place to stay.

My main research consisted of visiting a few locations I intend to use in the book, as well as just soaking up the atmosphere for inspiration. First up was a visit to the Doge’s Palace, where we took the Secret Itineraries tour: a look behind the scenes at the offices, torture chamber and “the Leads” (i Piombi), the attic cells where Giacomo Casanova was imprisoned in the eighteenth century. The torture chamber was surprisingly civilised in appearance, just a high, narrow wood-paneled room, with a heavy rope hanging from the ceiling above a set of wooden steps. The Venetians’ approach to torture was very simple: suspects were placed in adjacent cells where they could see and hear everything that went on, then one victim was subjected to the strapado, i.e. hauled up on the rope by his hands, which had been tied behind his back. Very, very painful, and thus very effective at loosening the tongues of both victim and observers. (Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the palace or even make written notes, so I will have to rely on my memory for any details I might use in the book.)

Fondaco dei Turchi
Fondaco dei Turchi

We also visited the Fondaco dei Turchi (now the Natural History Museum), for reasons that will become clearer when the book is published! I was more interested in the building than the museum exhibits, which range from the fascinating (dinosaur footprints) to the macabre (a collection of stuffed animals formerly belonging to a big game hunter), It wasn’t all dead things, however; in the garden area outside we spotted a hummingbird hawkmoth, though sadly he moved far too fast to be photographed.

Whilst not exactly research, I did make the most of our trips to various restaurants, including trying out local specialities like sarde in saor (sardines in a “sweet-and-sour” marinade). I can particularly recommend Ai Assassini, tucked away in a side street near La Fenice, where I enjoyed some amazing prosciutto crudo, as rich and soft as butter; and Poste Vecie, said to be the oldest restaurant in Venice. At the latter I had another delicious Venetian speciality, seppie in nero (cuttlefish cooked in its own ink) – the restaurant is right next door to the Rialto fishmarket – followed by a glass of grappa di prosecco in lieu of dessert. Poste Vecie was founded around 1500, so don’t be surprised if it makes a guest appearance in The Merchant of Dreams 🙂

Lace parasol and fan, brocade slippers, leather mask and Murano glass jewellery
Lace parasol and fan, brocade slippers, leather mask and Murano glass jewellery

Of course the reason Venice became so rich was that it was the nexus of a vast trading network transporting luxuries from the East into Europe. No trip to Venice would be complete without buying a few luxuries of my own, including some that you may see me wearing at a future convention! (see photo)

I also bought a gorgeous leather-bound journal – almost too nice to use! – and some comestibles: a small packet of chocolate-covered ginger, a jar of enormous olives, and a bottle of Prosecco to toast the handover of the manuscript of The Merchant of Dreams. I guess it’ll be a while before I get to that one…

Book Review: The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

I was very excited when I saw this book was coming out: I love alternate history, Venice is one of my favourite cities (the book I’m working on is set there in large part), and it sounded like an interesting twist on the hoary old vampires-vs-werewolves trope. In all these respects I was not disappointed. Unfortunately it was not all moonlight and roses – but more about that later.

The Fallen Blade tells the story of Tycho, a young man of about seventeen who finds himself in early fifteenth-century Venice with no memory of his past and, worse still, strange inhuman abilities he does not understand. Even his name is given to him by the Venetians who find him, based on the first, garbled words he speaks.

As mentioned above this is an alternate history Venice, where Marco Polo returned from China to seize power and end the old republic, replacing it with a hereditary dukedom. Now his great grandson, Marco IV, sits on the throne of Serenissima, but the young duke is apparently mad, and his mother and uncle vie for power behind the throne. Chief amongst their retainers is Atilo the Moor, aging head of the Assassini, who sees in Tycho the ultimate assassin and his future heir.

Tycho is not so pliable, however, and resists his masters at every turn. When he comes up against a krieghund, one of the Holy Roman Emperor’s werewolves, he discovers there is a secret magical war going on behind the mundane politicking…

There’s a lot to enjoy about this book. The world-building is fresh and intriguing, hinting at a broad canvas that will be pursued in subsequent books. Grimwood’s Renaissance Venice is suitably filthy, smelly and brutal, appropriately enough since what we mostly see is its seamy underbelly. But there were aspects of the writing that, for me at least, were less successful.

Firstly, I found the prose hard to follow in places. Grimwood is a little too fond of sentence fragments and odd punctuation, and the point of view lurches between omniscient and close third person in a way that reminded me of nothing so much as shaky handheld camerawork, the focus always seeming to shift away from a character or the action of a scene at a crucial moment. Add this to the large number of characters and plot threads being thrown at the reader in the opening chapters, and it makes for a disorienting kaleidoscope of imagery. The storytelling does eventually settle down to a clearer rhythm and builds to a set-piece action climax – only to be spoilt by a deus ex machina resolution to Tycho’s seemingly impossible mission.

Far more off-putting, however, was the constant catalogue of violence against the female characters in this novel. For a good two-thirds of the book, scarcely a chapter (and there are a lot of them) goes by without a young woman being abused, violated or, in the worst cases, horribly murdered. Admittedly few characters in this book escape violence and abuse, least of all pretty-boy Tycho, who spends so much of the book naked that one is frequently shocked to discover he is clothed in a given chapter. A certain amount of violence is expected in a book like this, but it is the unremitting, brutal and often sexual cruelty towards the girls that leaves this female reader with an unpleasant taste in her mouth.

Now, one could say this is a historically accurate portrayal of a highly misogynistic culture, but surely it is the prerogative of the artist to pick and choose his subjects and arrange them according to the effect he wishes to produce? In this case, the effect was that I only continued reading the book in order to be able to give a fair and balanced review.

Overall, I feel disinclined to recommend this book, or to read the sequel. A pity, as Tycho is an intriguing character and I would like to know more about the Fallen. Not enough, however, to wade further through the fetid canals of Grimwood’s Venice.

Researching Historical Fantasy

I had planned to do a classic movie review today, but I got so caught up in planning Book Two of my Elizabethan fantasy series yesterday, I didn’t get around to watching any. So instead I’m stealing a leaf out of Mark Chadbourn’s blog and talking about how I research my novels, since that’s a topic uppermost in my mind at the moment.

Non-fantasy readers tend to think that the genre has an “anything goes” attitude, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. All good fantasy writers set limitations on what’s possible in their made-up world. What can magic do, and what can’t it do? Which fantastical creatures (if any) are real, and what are their characteristics/powers? Without limits, anything is possible and thus tension and suspense are deflated.

Historical fantasy is even more constrained, in that we have to take the real events of history into account and decide how closely we are going to follow them. You can’t fudge the facts entirely, or your setting will come across as a cheap Hollywoodesque pastiche of the period. Indeed, a careful adherence to fact will set off your fantasy elements far better, by anchoring the strangeness in a reality as solid as our familiar 21st-century world. On the other hand, you could spend a lifetime researching a well-documented era, just as a creator of a secondary world could spend all their time world-building, and never get around to writing the book. So what do you do?

I approach research in layers. To begin with, I know an awful lot of basic information about sixteenth-century Europe, and Tudor/Elizabethan England in particular. We studied the period in primary school (aged about 11) and again in grammar school (aged about 14), and ever since then I’ve read countless non-fiction and fiction books on the subject, watched numerous films, TV series and documentaries, seen eight or nine of Shakespeare’s plays performed live, and visited a great many historic buildings, from Hever Castle in Kent to Plas Mawr in North Wales. None of this was research for a specific book, just a general interest in the period. And yet it all builds up into an almost instinctive feel for place and character that you can’t get by doing six months or even a year’s intensive research.

Still, you do need specific research on top of that base layer. There are bound to be real locations you want to use but are unfamiliar with; before revising my first novel, I hadn’t set foot in the Tower of London since I was ten years old, an omission that I was quick to remedy! I ended up doing an awful lot of additional reading in order to nail the details for that book, because I wanted it to feel real. The two pubs mentioned in the first scene of my book? Both real – and the one favoured by the actors was one of Edward Alleyn’s known haunts. Admittedly I had to make up the descriptions of each place, because the buildings no longer exist, but the writer’s aim should be to merge fact and fiction so that the reader is never aware of the seams.

A lot of writers seem to be unable to resist the temptation to put every last bit of their research on show. Look how hard I worked! their book shouts. I always remind myself that the story comes first. If a historical detail is relevant to the story, or helps to set a scene without bogging down the action, then fine. I needed names for the two pubs, and authentic ones are no more intrusive than made-up ones. But if one reader in a thousand really wants to know all the different types of wood that go into making a lute, they’re going to have to read about it somewhere else, because I’m not going to bore the other nine hundred and ninety-nine.

At the moment I’m embarking on a fresh draft of a novel set at least partially in Venice. I visited the city back in 2003, before I ever conceived of writing Elizabethan fantasy, and fell in love with the place, so I drew on those memories when planning the first draft, which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2007. At that time I also did some general research into Venetian history and politics, to get a feel for the kind of story that would be plausible in that setting. To me, a plot should grow out of the unique characteristics of a culture, not be imposed from outside. Otherwise, why bother to set it there in the first place?

For this next phase, I’m going to be doing some more reading and googling, but again, not so much that I put off writing the actual story. After the next draft, then it will be time for detailed research: accurate descriptions of buildings, fashions and artifacts, authentic names and titles. In other words, the set-dressing that will bring the city  to life. Of course this is a great excuse to visit Venice again (and claim the expense against taxes this time!), but until I have the story sketched out, I won’t know which places I really need to visit when I get there, so I won’t make efficient use of my limited time.

You’re probably thinking this is a heck of a lot of work – and expense – for a fantasy novel. Perhaps it is. But I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.