Book Review

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

the tropic of serpents

I thoroughly enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons – the first novel in this series of memoirs of Lady Trent – and I couldn’t wait to see where her adventures would take her next.

Attentive readers are already familiar with how a bookish young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Three years after her journey through Vystrana, the illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) Lady Trent defies convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of the legendary swamp-wyrm. Accompanied by an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell… where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.

The Tropic of Serpents continues in the same vain as A Natural History of Dragons with Isabella looking back on her younger days and writing her memoirs of those more adventurous times.  The style and tone of the writing is quite formal, and puts me in mind of a Victorian lady’s diary, albeit a lady who flies in the face of convention by travelling to exotic locations, studying dragons, and generally upsetting the status quo with her antics.  As you might have guessed, I’m a huge fan of Isabella.  She is not one to let society’s conventions restrict her, and has proven herself more than capable time and again, whether the men of the time choose to admit it or not.

In this second volume, Isabella describes her adventures in Eriga – a hot and hostile jungle / swamp region.  Not somewhere for the faint-hearted, it’s a dangerous area, not least because of the political turmoil in the region.  Her goal?  The legendary swamp-wyrm.  It’s a journey that goes beyond what was endured in the first instalment, and while she is slightly older and wiser at the time of this second adventure, she still has much to learn, as she would readily admit.  What follows is a stunning adventure that will push this determined young woman to her limits.

It’s clear from the preface and blurb that Isabella does, eventually, succeed in becoming a pre-eminent dragon naturalist, and her memoirs tell the tale of how she got there, despite the many issues she faced along the way.  Deemed scandalous by her peers, Isabella is very open about her decisions, regrets, and mistakes, and she comes across as an extremely likeable character – one who is open and honest, but not apologetic, for her actions.

it was during these years that I found myself accused of fornication, high treason, and status as the worst mother in all of Scirland.  It is rather more than most women manage in their lives, and I own that I take a perverse sort of pride in the achievement.

These novels are full of adventure, action, and, of course, dragons in many shapes and sizes, and I love the style of storytelling Brennan has adopted here.  I’ll definitely be picking up the next volume, Voyage of the Basilisk, soon.


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