Tag Archives: Victorian

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

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Regular visitors to my blog will recall my attendance at Bristolcon this year, where I had one of the best evenings of my life, talking books with similarly passionate readers. One of these marvellous people – Kitvaria Sarene highly recommended this series as one of her favourite fantasy reads. When Himself hit a reading slump a few days later, I suggested he get hold of this one. Once he did so, he then bought the rest of the series. So would I also become a huge fan?

anaturalhistoryofdragonsEveryone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

This is gem is a must-read for those smitten by dragons. It is set in the Victorian era in a parallel world where a high-spirited, intelligent girl makes a habit of sneaking into her father’s study to read his learned tomes deemed unsuitable for well born young ladies. And she encounters the book A Natural History of Dragons and falls in love with them. From then on, she is determined to try to learn more about them in any way and this story charts her efforts to do so.

What I would caution is that Brennan does couch the language in an approximation of 19th century prose – however, it is only an approximation. There is nothing like the pages of intense description or long, involved passages of exposition you’d find in a novel written by Dickens or Mrs Gaskell. Brennan takes the story forward in the form of a memoir written by Lady Trent as an elderly lady about the exploits that made her famous, which moves along at a fair clip.

I was utterly beguiled. This is a wonderful conceit brilliantly pulled off by Brennan. The plot rapidly corkscrews away in all sorts of directions I hadn’t anticipated and there is a really shocking outcome that left me winded at the ending, while leaving me keen to learn more.

I’m so glad Himself has bought the next three books in the series – and the great news for fans of this accomplished series is that the fifth and final book, Within the Sanctuary of Wings is due out in February 2017. I’m very much looking forward to reading it – which also gives me an excellent excuse to tuck into the other three in the meantime. Happy Christmas me – and many, many thanks to Kivaria for her recommendation. She is spot on – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year.
10/10