The Tropic of Serpents – Marie Brennan

About the Book

The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents . . .

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.

331 pages (hardcover)
Published on March 4, 2014
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

If you asked me last year what one of my most anticipated books in 2014 is, I’d say Tropic of Serpents. Brennan really wowed me with A Natural History of Dragons, which is hard to do when you throw Victorian ideals into a book. Victorian anything just doesn’t do it for me, but Brennan managed to take this stuffy, pretentious time period and turn it into something absolutely enchanting. The scientific discovery mixed with personal issues and gripping characters totally sucked me in. I was hungry for more, and I’ve been thinking about (and waiting for) The Tropic of Serpents for (what feels like) a long time.

The Tropic of Serpents starts a comfortable amount of time past A Natural History of Dragons. Plenty of personal growth has been had. Isabella lost a lot in the adventures of the last book, but she also gained a son, and it was rather fascinating to see how she changed as a mother (and not really in the way you’d expect). I appreciated how Brennan stayed true to Isabella’s character, even though the actions she takes, and the rather impersonal mother she is, can be rather uncomfortable. That being said, the way Isabella mother’s her son, and is a relative and friend to those she cares about, is also shockingly candid, and it is true to the period of time that Brennan is obviously influenced by. I appreciated the fact that Isabella didn’t see anything wrong with having another woman basically mother her child. While that’s not a choice I would make, it is a choice many, many women in the past have made, it made the historical setting that much more real and believable.

In fact, that’s how much of the book is, and I always found myself surprised by just how much thought Brennan put into the events and the choices the characters make. While some of these details might annoy readers, or aggravate them, if you read this book like you are reading a bit of history (Jane Austin, for example) you’ll realize that these details, these small annoyances, just enliven the time period and make the setting so much more realistic and viable. Brennan’s ability to weave historical detail into her secondary world is what makes Memoir by the Lady Trent so damn addicting. It’s relatable, and it feels so real it is impossible to separate the fact that this didn’t really happen in our world.

In this book, Isabella and Co. travel to Eriga. Where plenty of people complained about a lack of obvious dragons in the last book, there were plenty of our scaly friends in this one. While a lot of the book is true to its roots and focuses on the study of dragons, and the fascinating tale of a pioneering woman in a world where women do not pioneer, there are also a lot of politics, as well as family and personal issues that Isabella is working out. While I didn’t think this was a bad thing, some readers who might want another book much like A Natural History of Dragons might find themselves a little disappointed.

That being said, the journey into Eriga was rather fascinating in a real clash-of-cultures sort of way. Isabella and company find themselves emboyaled in politics, and seeing how they navigate these politics, and how they, and the natives, deal with the cultural clashes was very well done, very realistic and incredibly interesting. That isn’t to say that everyone will think it is as interesting as I did. This is definitely a book that will strike some people right, and strike some people wrong. While I tend to think politics and cultural clashes are the bees knees, I also realize that plenty of people out there think that sort of thing is boring, and will just want to get back to the dragons, already.

The plot moves pretty fast, but some parts will lag to some readers more than others (due to the interest/lack of interest thing I just mentioned). There is a sort of awkward romantic interest during part of the book, and some of the plot threads were kind of messily tied up. The interpersonal journey, as well as the politics and cultural issues that are raised throughout the book will serve to put off some readers. That being said, this is still a solid entry in the Memoir by the Lady Trent. However, I never quite got over the feeling that this book is more of a set up for whatever happens next than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, this was a great book, but it didn’t feel as complete as A Natural History of Dragons for some reason.

The Tropic of Serpents is one of those books that just really worked for me. It was a lot of fun, and reminded me of all the reasons why Marie Brennan is an author to watch. Her writing is smooth, flowing, and easy to absorb. She manages to really make me feel like I am there, living in Lady Trent’s world, experiencing her life. She gets me frustrated and makes me happy. She gets me excited and makes me look at the world around me in a more scientific way. That’s really cool. However, that’s balanced by a plot that will either really work for readers, or will bore them. The political and cultural focuses were wonderful for me, but they won’t work for everyone. I also had the nagging feeling like this book was a place holder, or a set up for something more and I want that more so very badly.

If you liked A Natural History of Dragons, this one isn’t to miss. This is a very strong installment that will make you fall in love with Lady Trent and Marie Brennan all over again.


4/5 stars

2 Responses

  • However, I never quite got over the feeling that this book is more of a set up for whatever happens next than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, this was a great book, but it didn’t feel as complete as A Natural History of Dragons for some reason.

    Hunh. Set up for a third volume? That might be middle-volume sagginess. Still intend to read it.

    How are the illustrations in this one?

  • Oo awesome! I was a bit worried about the Victorian setting as well, and haven’t read book one but do own it, so it’s great to know that you didn’t find that to be an issue ;-). I have bought the second book already since how could I resist honestly, and will definitely be finding time to read these two sometime this year.

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