Title: The Tropic of Serpents
Author: Marie Brennan
Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #2
Rating: 2.5 stars
The Overview: 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.
In case you missed my review of A Natural History of Dragons, I should start out by explaining my love/hate relationship with it. The first half was SO AMAZING that I was certain it was going to be one of my new all-time favorites. However, the longer the story progressed, the more disappointed I became with how things were going. There were two main issues: 1) somewhere along the way, the focus shifted from the dragons and 2) the main character started making harebrained decisions that were way beyond what I would call realistic behavior. To sum it up, I valued the first half at a solid 5 stars and the second half at 1.5 stars. That’s a pretty wide spectrum for a single book.
However, I’m happy to report that The Tropic of Serpents was an even-keel 3 stars the whole way through.
I’ll admit, the end of the first book let me down so much that I was afraid to pick up the sequel. I finally decided to because the author did manage to completely dazzle me for that first half and I had high hopes that she could do it again (and that the second half was just a fluke). Although The Tropic of Serpents started out a bit slow, it eventually grew into the kind of dragon-centric adventure I’d been hoping for!
In Tropic of Serpents, the Lady Trent’s adventures took her to the marshlands where her and her team tried to unravel the mysteries of the swamp dragon (the specific name of which escapes me right now, but you get the gist). It was an awesome adventure and I loved the immersive setting, infusion of local culture, and great interspersal of biology to illustrate how swamp dragons live. I devoured every minute of it. This book went a long way towards reinvigorating my passion for the series and I can honestly say I’m eager to read on.
As for character, Lady Trent did make a few decisions that I would call questionable, but at least this time around they were more plausible. At the basis of it, I genuinely like her character – she’s incredibly passionate about her pursuit of knowledge, she’s brave enough to stand up against societal norms to chase her dreams, she strong enough to stand on her own accomplishments, and she loves dragons (we could totally be besties because of that alone). So when this incredibly intelligent and resourceful woman started making stupid decisions (in the first book), I got hostile. It was incredibly frustrating to try to live vicariously through her when she did that, you know? Like I said though, things were much better in The Tropic of Serpents and I’m extremely hopeful for the next few books.
Overall, Tropic of serpents goes a long way towards reinstating my faith in the series and its overall recommendability. There are certain elements to this series so far that I LOVED… however, it is a bit of a dry read (it didn’t bother me, but I could see how it might other readers). I would definitely recommend it to any fellow geek out there who has ever thought it would be cool to study dragons.
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