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Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Title: Voyage of the Basilisk

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: 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. Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m happy to say that Voyage of the Basilisk was a combination of everything I’ve been hoping to see since the beginning of the series. The foremost of which being the heavy focus on dragons (and not all the other crap she included in the first book… although a lot of that is now becoming relevant, so I’m kind of eating my words). I especially appreciated the infusion of fantasy, naturalism, and archaeology into this adventure.

I feel like I’m living vicariously through the main character, and am loving the chance to explore new territories, study dragons, and come up with new theories on how they impact the world. If I could have any fantasy job, dragon naturalism would be near the top of the list. Part of the reason this was my favorite installment to date is because it let me appreciate the breadth of Brennan’s dragon creation. I think she did an excellent job of incorporating a wide variety of species while keeping in mind what’s biologically feasible for each territory. VotB also hinted at a cool mystery involving ancient dragons (which just might be the overall arc of the story), which shows a depth of world building I also hadn’t truly appreciated. All the things have me super excited to pick up the next book.

I still have a slight hold-up about the main character – I like so many things about her, but she still has a tendency to make hair-brained decisions. Even though Brennan did an excellent job addressing it in this volume, it still required a bit of that eye-rolling acceptance near the end. At least the character is consistent, I guess. The best advice I can give is: just go with it.

Overall, there are moments in this series I’ll love forever, and those memorable moments seem to happen more and more with each book. If you are as obsessed with dragons as I am (and are patient enough to wait for the payoff), this is an excellent series for you. I highly recommend the audio – Kate Reading is the queen of narration.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Title: The Tropic of Serpents

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #2

Genre: Fantasy

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.

The Review:

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.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

a natural history of dragonTitle: A Natural History of Dragons

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Overview: All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever. 

The Review:

I’ve been stalling on writing this review because I have so many conflicting emotions about it – it has been hard to get my thoughts straight. Up to about a third of the way through the novel, I was certain it was going to be one of my new all-time favorites. Every last element sang to me in a way that only a handful of novels ever have:

  • A young girl who dreams of studying dragons in a society that considers that a very unladylike endeavor.
  • A memoir narration from this girl many decades later indicating that she broke through all of the societal constraints and is now considered the foremost expert in the field.
  • A sweet love story where she meets someone willing to accept and share her passions.
  • The promise of adventure as she sets out to study her first specimen at an exotic location.
  • And of course, an abundance of dragons!

All of these elements were in line with my personal passions – books, dragons, and nature – and brought them together in a way that made me lose myself within the pages. It was magical!

But, alas, the magic didn’t carry through the entire story. ::sobs::

There were several issues that arose as the novel progressed, and I lament because ALL OF THEM could’ve been avoided with a different outlining strategy/focus on the author’s part.

The major one was the main conflict of the story. In a book about a dragon-nut going on a wild adventure to study dragons in a way never before attempted, I feel strongly that the main conflict SHOULD HAVE REVOLVED AROUND THE DRAGONS. Instead, the dragons remained on the periphery of the story and were only loosely related to what drove 2/3 of the book. It focused on a mystery surrounding a small village, a larger village, some old ruins, a handful of bandits, and some politicking between all of them – none of which had absolutely anything meaningful to do with the dragons and, frankly, could have been easily adjusted to omit the dragons altogether. What an opportunity wasted!!! I’m still agonizing over it.

The second issue was with characterization… particularly that of the main character. She was a bright woman who wanted nothing more than to study dragons. This obsession made her a bit reckless at times when dragons were concerned, which is consistent with her character (and an element I appreciated). What isn’t consistence is how she kept making harebrained decisions when no dragons were involved at all. Stupid stuff. Stuff that leaves you going “no half-intelligent person would do that! What is wrong with this woman?!” It was frustrating, to say the least. The only thing I can figure is that the author orchestrated these odd decisions because she couldn’t figure out another way to advance the plot and get the character from point A to point B any other way. But that’s just me theorizing…

Ugh. Overall, I both fawn and agonize over A Natural History of Dragons, and am really nervous to pick up the second one. I’ll keep in mind that Brennan has the ability to dazzle me and what was done well was done brilliantly enough to give me hope going forward.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes