Tag Archives: historical

Review of NOVELLA NETGALLEY arc Time Was by Ian McDonald #Brainfluffbookreview #TimeWasbookreview

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I was delighted when I saw this offering on NetGalley – and even more delighted when I was approved to read it. I enjoy McDonald’s writing and was particularly impressed with his lunar duology – read my review of Luna: New Moon here.

Struggling second-hand book dealer, Emmet, is trying to survive in the increasingly difficult financial climate – and then comes across a small poetry collection called Time Was which includes a love letter from Tom to Ben, set in WWII. It sets him out on an astonishing search to discover who Tom and Ben are – a search that takes him to a tucked-away corner of England where odd stories abound about the seas catching fire…

And no… You won’t find that blurb anywhere else, as I wrote it myself. I feel the official version is highly misleading and yet somehow also manages to reveal some of the major plot points. I’m very glad I didn’t read it before I picked up the book, because I would have approached it expecting something completely different.

The main protagonist is gripped by the need to track down the fate of the two young men caught up in WWII and more or less abandons his everyday life to do it. In contrast to the lyrical, slightly highflown prose produced by Tom when in his viewpoint, Emmet is far more down-to-earth with a dry, sarky humour that I thoroughly enjoyed and stopped this turning into a treacly read. In fact, Emmett isn’t a particularly likeable character – and that was okay, too.

Tom and Ben were the people in the story that snagged my sympathy and attention – and I think that is exactly how I was meant to feel, in effect, shadowing the main protagonist in his attempts to find out more about these two people. But history and historical research is inherently messy – it never delivers exactly what you want, in the way that you want it. And there are two major surprises at the end of this bittersweet story that summed up that premise.

Overall, I think this is a haunting, really well written novella with a misleading blurb that isn’t doing it any favours whatsoever. Take my advice – skip the blurb and instead pick up this short story without any prior expectation and let the plot unfold around you.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ashes of London – Book 1 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor

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I requested this one after being attracted by the eye-catching cover and reading the premise, which was very intriguing.

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer. In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back. Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters

So did this live up to my expectations? Oh yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As to be expected with a story that starts in the middle of the Great Fire of London, this one starts with a bang. James Marwood watches the destruction of St Pauls Cathedral, with a vivid description of the heat and violence as the fire ripped through the interior and then destroyed the quantities of stationery and books that was stored in the crypt, in the belief that they would be safe.

Taylor has clearly done his research – there is a wealth of historical detail here woven into the everyday lives of the people caught up in the drama and terror. I was interested to learn that the official version – that there was a surprisingly small loss of life, given the ferocity and speed of the flames – is contradicted in this book. As the fire storms across tenements at a speed faster than a man can run, there is a general acceptance that whole families and communities were immolated. The reason why there is no official recognition of this loss of life is simply that the destruction was so thorough, nothing is left of the poor souls caught up in the conflagration but ashes.

That said, most of the action takes place in the days, weeks and months after the fire. I really liked this. That single event has caused havoc in the capital, which is nicely reflected in the political turbulence that is still being played out after the Civil War. Once Charles II regains his throne, one of his missions is to track down the handful of people responsible for executing his father. The young protagonist is caught up in this business – as are a number of other people in the story, even though they were either children or not yet born when the execution occurred.

I am conscious that I have managed to make this book sound as if it is some sort of historical account of the aftermath of both the Civil War and the great Fire of London, when of course, it’s nothing of the sort – it is a murder mystery adventure. That said, after the initial drama, the pace necessarily slows down. We are not in an era of fast car chases, or fast anything for that matter. This mystery reflects the fact that most people walk everywhere and the majority of tasks are still done by hand. So this mystery spools out over a period of time, which gives the denouement an extra kick as it takes place among the shattered remains of St Paul’s Cathedral. There were a number of intriguing twists, with one in particular I certainly didn’t see coming. I am delighted that this is the start of a series featuring James Marwell and I shall certainly be getting hold of the next book. Recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Ashes of London from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 10th April, 2018

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Blood – Book 3 of the Jem Flockhart series by E.S. Thomson

16% ‘What will you do?’
She sat up and put her pipe on the hearth. ‘Well, sir—’
Sir, I thought. That’s not a good sign. ‘No,’ I said.
Her face sagged. ‘But you don’t know what I were about to suggest!’
‘You were about to suggest coming here to work.’
‘No,’ said Will. ‘Definitely no.’
Mrs Speedicut sank back. ‘I will die in the streets,’ she said. ‘You’re all I got! What would your dear father say if he were to hear you treating me with such cruelty?’ Tears filled her beady eyes and she covered her face with her apron. The sight would have been quite affecting had it not been for the fact that I could see her peeping craftily out at me from around the edge of it.

BLURB: I knew the smell of death well enough. But here the sweetness of decay was tainted with something else, something new and different. It was a curious, moist smell; a smell that spoke of the ooze and slap of water, of gurgling wet spaces and the sticky, yielding mud of low-tide…

Summoned to the riverside by the desperate, scribbled note of an old friend, Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain find themselves on board the seamen’s floating hospital, an old hulk known only as The Blood, where prejudice, ambition and murder seethe beneath a veneer of medical respectability.

I have just started this one – it’s a vivid world, full of grot and effluvia, but I like the protagonist and the prose is well written and smoothly engrossing. I don’t normally read historical whodunits back to back – but my arc schedule has thrown two together and so far, I’m thoroughly enjoying the change from my usual reading pattern.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 7th March, 2018

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Blood by E.S. Thomson

#crime #murder mystery #historical

I knew the smell of death well enough. But here the sweetness of decay was tainted with something else, something new and different. It was a curious, moist smell; a smell that spoke of the ooze and slap of water, of gurgling wet spaces and the sticky, yielding mud of low-tide…

Summoned to the riverside by the desperate, scribbled note of an old friend, Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain find themselves on board the seamen’s floating hospital, an old hulk known only as The Blood, where prejudice, ambition and murder seethe beneath a veneer of medical respectability.

On shore, a young woman, a known prostitute, is found drowned in a derelict boatyard. A man leaps to his death into the Thames, driven mad by poison and fear. The events are linked – but how? Courting danger in the opium dens and brothels of the waterfront, certain that the Blood lies at the heart of the puzzle, Jem and Will embark on a quest to uncover the truth. In a hunt that takes them from the dissecting tables of a private anatomy school to the squalor of the dock-side mortuary, they find themselves involved in a dark and terrible mystery.

I’ll be honest – after reading the blurb, I am slightly spluttering and wondering WHAT was going through my mind as I requested this one… That said, it never hurts to step out of your comfort zone from time to time – right? And even if it is a tad grittier than I generally like, it certainly looks like it’s an excellent read…

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 21st February, 2018

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – A Black and Dod Mystery:1 by Diane James

#crime #murder mystery #historical

1929.

The night before she’s due to make a speech to the Robert Barnaby Society on the subject of the famous writer’s ‘magic chair’, committee member Linda Dexter disappears. When her body is discovered two days later, fellow members Frances Black and Tom Dod determine to find out the truth about her death.

Could Linda have discovered something about Robert Barnaby that got her killed? Or does the answer lie in the dead woman’s past? As they pursue their investigations, Fran and Tom find the Barnaby Society to be a hotbed of clashing egos, seething resentments and ill-advised love affairs – but does a killer lurk among them?

I think this one sounds great fun. Though I haven’t read anything by this author before, Severn Publishing have produced a steady stream of well-written, enjoyable murder mysteries that I have scooped up on Netgalley – and this looks to be another entertaining addition.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Ranter’s Wharf by Rosemary Noble

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Rosemary Noble happens to attend my Fitstep class and when we discussed our relative projects, I tracked down her book as it sounded really interesting…

This is a family saga about love, loss and betrayal. It is an intimate portrayal of a family dealing with big ideas of the times. The backdrop is the decaying, coastal town of Grimsby trying to reinvent itself amid the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, dissenting religion and the fight for voting reform.

When Betsy, a strong and determined spinster of independent means, adopts her motherless nephew, she doesn’t mean to fall head over heels in love with the child. When she plucks William from the bosom of his family, she does it out of self-interest, hoping to thwart unwelcome suitors. Her plans to raise William as a gentleman, allowing his respectability to rub off on herself, almost works. But things don’t always go to plan…

I’ve somewhat tweaked the very chatty blurb which gives away far too much of the story – but this is a historical novel loosely based on Noble’s own family history. She has clearly assiduously researched the period and knows a great deal about living conditions, the geography and weather conditions. As a fellow historian, I am full of admiration for her close attention to detail – but in order to write an entertaining story, there needs to be strong characters that ping off the page the reader can identify with and a page-turning story. So has Noble also managed to people her vivid depiction of a by-gone age with sufficiently readable characters and an engrossing tale? Oh yes.

I particularly loved the opening section of the book when we see Betsy visiting her stricken brother on the day of his wife’s funeral with a proposition to take one of his children and raise him as her own. As a point of information, this arrangement was far commoner than you might think. Time and again, records show that one child from a large family is taken off to be brought up by aunts, uncles, grandparents and in quite a lot of examples, older married siblings. What those records don’t report is how it turned out. Betsy becomes devoted to the bright, intelligent little boy, who grows up to be able to first rent and then buy a small dairy farm. It may not seem much, but is a world away from the labouring jobs that were his father’s lot.

We then follow the fortunes of that small boy – William – and what happens to him and his children, as well as charting what becomes of the family he left behind. As well as the personal family drama, what I found particularly fascinating is how Noble also situates the family’s fortunes within the political situation of the time. She shows us William’s involvement in the Primitive Methodist movement which also gives us an insight into how working men coped with the dreadful conditions they found themselves confronting after the Napoleonic War ravaged the economy. The following generation becomes even more embroiled in the politics of the day when his son John gets increasingly caught up with the Chartists.

Reading of this particular family dealing with the fallout, brought home to me just how high the price was and how our social history was sculpted by brave, forward-thinking men and women whose consciences wouldn’t let them rest when so many around them were suffering such acute privation. It also makes it easier to understand how some of the modern faultlines in our Parliamentary and class system came into being.

Noble provides a highly readable account of a turning point in the political life of the country and is recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction that gives an insight into who we are now.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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I’m not normally a fan of long blurbs, but this one manages to neatly sum up a fairly complex story without giving away any major spoilers, so for once, I’m not going to prune it…

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

And there you have it. Two timelines interweaving throughout the story with the major protagonists being young, dreamy Frances, displaced and pining for her father during the long war years. And dreamy, older Olivia, also somehow displaced from her own life after devastating news leaves her questioning everything and everyone in her life so far – and find it wanting.

The real challenge of writing such a book is to adequately balance both story strands so the reader isn’t rushing through one to get back to the other. And in this case, Gaynor has succeeded beautifully. At no stage did I find myself skim-reading through any section to get to another – despite skimming being one of my vices as a reader. So it is a tribute to the quality of Gaynor’s characterisation that both the lonely little girl and isolated twenty-something equally held me.

The other temptation in a story of this nature – particularly this specific story, given the scads that has already been written and said about it – is to either sensationalise or sentimentalise what occurred. Again, I admire Gaynor’s restraint – she could have revelled in the fuss and fame those photographs generated and allowed that to power the narrative. However, she also resisted that temptation, too. So what we have is a beautifully told tale of two hurt, sensitive people seeking refuge in something else outside their daily round. One of the joys of this book is that Gaynor’s writing has a lyrical quality that makes her descriptions of that small brook where Frances played alongside her fairies sing off the page. While her descriptions of the old, second-hand bookshop is equally vivid, so that I not only visualised the shop, I could smell the books, too.

When two narrative timelines run alongside each other, the other imperative is that the ending has to connect them to the readers’ satisfaction – and once again, Gaynor triumphantly succeeds in doing this. It isn’t a fantasy or paranormal tale, or a historical adventure – neither is it a contemporary romance, but it manages to interleave all these aspects into a wonderful, unusual story and is recommended for anyone who enjoys any of the above.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Yes… I’ve done it again. Seen a lovely cover, crooned over it and then requested the book.

In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be. Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip. Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.

This is far more a romance than a paranormal novel. While there is a strand of strangeness woven within this tale of love, betrayal and deceit, it isn’t the engine that powers the story forward. What we have here is Hector, who is consumed by passion for a woman he had hoped to make his wife – the stunningly beautiful Valérie. Now established in society and made wealthy by his mastery of his telekinetic powers, Hector can visit Valérie… be in her presence… talk to her… so long as he appears to be courting her husband’s young niece, Nina.

I really enjoyed this one. Moreno-Garcia paints a vivid picture of the belle epoch, when the rich could have it all. Women have never been so beautifully attired, men had the freedom to buy it all – so long as they were rich. Further down the greasy pole, of course, life was a lot less glittering. I thoroughly enjoyed the story – and yet it isn’t one that I expected to like. Hector is behaving appallingly and the fact that I understood and accepted the situation without throwing my Kindle across the room or irritably deleting it, says a lot for the depth of the characterisation.

Nina, the charming, clumsy and intelligent girl with an unexpectedly strong sense of herself, again was very well drawn and while I was reading, she was the character I sympathised with. But since I finished this book and whenever I thought about it – it isn’t either of these two characters that I find myself pondering – it is Valérie. The beautiful, spiky woman who is dying inside by slow degrees because she has married a man for his money. Because she was forced to marry a man for his money. And while her husband is kindly and thoughtful, she simply doesn’t love him – indeed, his little habits and annoying penchant for actually consulting Nina about her wishes regarding her courtship, has Valérie grinding her teeth.

I generally don’t read romance stories, yet this one really held me as somehow Moreno-Garcia managed to depict all three of the main characters, warts and all, with a degree of compassion and understanding that gave me an insight into how they all ticked. It made a very enjoyable change from my usual fare at a time when I was struggling with flu and if you do enjoy a well-written, character-led romance, this one comes recommended. While I obtained the arc of The Beautiful Ones from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

 

ANNDDD…

Lovely Paranormal Books is taking part in the blog tour for Running Out of Space – and Rose asked me to list the pros and cons of living in space for my protagonist…

Sunday Post – 10th September 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been a mixed week. My rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest has stalled at just over 1,000 words added to the manuscript as all sorts of deadlines have been knocking on the door. We had a lovely time with the grandchildren last week-end, which was great as it is possibly a while before we’ll see them again.

It was Himself’s birthday on Wednesday so my sister, J and I went out to our favourite Chinese restaurant and once again had an excellent meal – a real treat as being vegetarians means that eating out can be something of a lottery.

Unfortunately, I’ve been laid low with a cold, which has really knocked the stuffing out of me. While I’ve not got much in the way of a blocked nose, it’s the temperature, aching joints and sore head and throat which is the misery. It’s meant that I’ve missed teaching Tim on Friday and the first rehearsal session for the filming on Saturday – and the way I’m feeling today, I don’t think I’ll be making the lesson tomorrow unless I feel a whole lot better, either.

Today is our wedding anniversary – we’ve now been married for 22 years, which I can’t quite believe… Where did all those years go? It was the best thing I ever did. At least Himself is having his annual leave at the end of this month, so hopefully we’ll be able to make up the fact that we’re having a very quiet day at home while I snivel and shiver over the computer feeling sorry for myself… Have a great week, everyone.

This week I have read:

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker
Every dog has its day…
And for Lineker, a happy go lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can be. Reg, an agoraphobic writer with an obsession for nineties football, plans to wait out the impending doom in his second floor flat, hiding himself away from the riots outside. But when an abandoned orphan shows up in the stairwell of their building, Reg and Lineker must brave the outside in order to save not only the child, but themselves…
I absolutely loved this one, despite the extreme language. Walker’s first person viewpoint of boisterous Lineker is marvellous and the story is gripping, shocking and tender.

 

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY gives voice to the longings of men and women everywhere-and shows us what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.
It is beautifully written and the love affair is depicted with tenderness and passion. However, I wanted to shake Francesca till her teeth rattled.

 

Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastein de Castell
There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.
Magic is a con game. Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.
This YA coming-of-age adventure is great fun and I loved Kellen’s character and the surprises that kept coming all the way through the story. And the squirrel cat is delightfully snarky, too.

 

Taste of Marrow – Book 2 of The River of Teeth novella series by Sarah Gailey
A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the damn that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway. Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”
In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.
This novella deals with the aftermath of the previous book – and my firm advice would be that if you haven’t read River of Teeth then go and search for that book first. There is more mayhem and chaos as feral hippos continue to infest the river system, causing carnage wherever they go…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 3rd September

Review of The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

Teaser Tuesday featuring Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan

Friday Face-off – Everybody’s got haters but your city’s always behind you… featuring Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week and a bit, in no particular order:

Waterford Walls – the Sea – some more https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/09/08/waterford-walls-2017-some-more/ I make no apologies for including another post from with wonderful photographer

Monday Funnies – Piracy You’ll Enjoy Reading About… https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/monday-funnies-4/ Have to confess – it was the cartoon about pilates that sold it for me. Now I’ve restarted my classes, I was howling with laughter at this one.

Running Out of Space Blog Tour – http://www.lolasblogtours.net/blog-tour-running-out-of-space-by-s-j-higbee/ To be honest, I’ve included this just because it still feels very unreal and seeing my book cover online is thrilling. And terrifying…

Writer’s Music: Daniel Pemberton https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/09/07/writers-music-daniel-pemberton/ This is a real treat – Jean writes about how she uses music when writing and then provides some wonderful tracks. This album is certainly one I’m going to be acquiring.

Poetry: The Misunderstood Merman http://blog.kristenburns.com/the-misunderstood-merman/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=socialnetwork
I love this one – funny and poignant…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

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I started this delightful series last year – see my review of A Natural History of Dragons – and have left it far too long to dive back into Lady Trent goodness.

Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career. Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics. The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless 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.

Lady Trent, now an elderly lady and a well-known authority on dragons, is writing her own memoirs, partly as companion pieces to the scholarly tomes she has produced on her beloved dragons – and partly to set the record straight, as she has been the object of much censure and gossip throughout her life. This is her account of the eventful second expedition she undertook. As the blurb already mentions, the jungle where the swamp-wyrms live is a political hotspot.

This is, if anything, even better than the first book. I love the first person narrator – Lady Trent is a feisty, unconventional woman driven by an insatiable scientific curiosity and a real concern that dragons will shortly be driven to extinction. Brennan has effectively captured the persona of a number of intrepid Victorian ladies who sallied forth to some of the most inhospitable places in the world – like Marianne North, the noted artist, who has provided us with a record of beautiful oil paintings of rare and unusual plants in their natural habitat, for instance.

Brennan paints such a vivid picture of this world, there were times I had to remind myself it is entirely fictitious. The privations the expedition endure in the jungle are utterly engrossing and just as I thought I knew what was coming next – or settled into the rhythm of the daily routine, the plot would suddenly take off in a completely different direction. The pages seemed to turn themselves as I read waaay late into the night, unable to put this one down. I held my breath as she attempts a death-defying leap and felt suitably indignant when she turns up at the gates of a colonial outpost, underweight and wearing the rags of her former clothes – and is dismissed with derision.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Brennan wraps this one up – and I completed the book with a sigh of satisfaction and a firm promise to myself that it won’t be so long before I revisit this world and track down The Voyage of the Basilisk.
9/10