The discovery of this series has been one of my reading highlights – and the reason I haven’t powered through all the books is because they are too good. I want to savour each one after I’ve read it and reflect on it for a while, before once more diving back into this rich, beautifully evoked world. That said, the gap between The Tropic of Serpents and this one was longer than I’d planned.
Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.
The tone and writing is pitch perfect. Isabella Trent epitomises those gutsy Victorian lady explorers who endured hazardous journeys to distant corners of the world in primitive conditions – often still wearing corsets and long skirts. Although Isabella does adopt trousers for their practicality in scrambling over ruins and running away from enraged dragons. This time, most of the book is spent aboard the ship Basilisk as the expedition she is heading attempts to garner more information on sea dragons, amongst other breeds living inconveniently long distances away from Scirland.
The first third of the book is necessarily episodic as the expedition gets under way – but once events start to spin out of control, as they invariably do for Isabella and her companions, the pace picks up along with the stakes. While she would love to devote all her attention and resources on tracking down and learning more about dragons, the politics of the region has to be taken into account – particularly in relation to her own country’s ambitions and she has learnt the hard way that this is an aspect of her travels she cannot afford to disregard.
The long-running narrative arc regarding the issue of dragon bones being stabilised and used industrially continues to gain momentum through this book. While I think all the books can be easily read as a standalone, it is always gratifying to have at least one ongoing thread to reward readers who follow the series. The climax in this book kept me reading until the end – I simply couldn’t put it down. And while I am not going to dive straight into the next book – I want more time to fully absorb and appreciate Basilisk goodness – I certainly don’t want to leave it too long before I once again delight in revisiting this world with the next book in the series, In the Labyrinth of Drakes. Highly recommended.