The Tropic of Serpents (A Memoir by Lady Trent) by Marie Brennan

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The Tropic of Serpents (A Memoir by Lady Trent) by Marie Brennan

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Almost too close to being a let-down, given the previous book in this series, but this follow-up tale of the daring female Victorian-styled dragon chaser just about holds its own, due to the charms of the conceit and some strongly visual action scenes.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Titan Books
ISBN: 9781783292417

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We are in sequel territory, so we must hope that things have escalated for Lady Trent, and that she is finding life even harder than before. And it is – as much as she would like to go dragon hunting with her husband she cannot. (And by dragon hunting I don't mean killing them, I mean being a natural historian for the species in a world that would rather massacre them for industrial purposes). Here, repressed by the Victorian society she lives in, she can just about raise another exhibition together, to a different corner of the world, but she won't find herself with the possibility of observing dragons – she is instead faced with the demand that she MUST hunt dragons…

It's plain to see early on that a lot of this book is the merits of the first writ larger, but that is not always to its credit. There is a much greater feminist slant – while it was there in the first book with Lady Trent being suppressed by her station in society and even her family, it is even more prominent here, making this akin to the feminist genre pieces of Ursula le Guin, all the others I forget, and at times K J Parker if she but wouldn't hide behind anonymous initials all the time. I would hazard a guess that people will see Lady Trent's menstruating as a plot point too far, however. It's a world-building plot point, but all the same – and there's too much of that. I do like the fact that the Lady comes from a place called Scirland – presumably Scotland, as there is definitely a country where people are called Monsieur, next to one full of Herrs, and I didn't mind at all that this adventure is presumably located in this universe's Africa, until we get to a melting pot where nobody can keep track of who is who or what is what, even if it's relevant to the plot. Such is the world-building – drama made out of spurious, almost irrelevant differences between people, the Victorian surprise at half-naked natives etc – that that imperative I mentioned in the plot summary above comes practically halfway through the book, which is heinously too late.

But… what is plain to see is still the quality of this writer, hidden as she is herself under a nom de plume. There are still exhilarating sections of writing, a cleverness regarding calling back prior details to prove their place in and worth to the plot when least expected, and of course the whole ethos of the series. That very Victorian attitude, and completely sustained historical writing style, still marks these books out. The Lady Trent – Isabella to a select few – is and always will be good company.

This book then is not as good as the first, but still has enough to keep its head above the genre waters in attractive fashion. It's not middle-book-syndrome, where the first sequel in a trilogy suffers being a link from one to another, for I firmly believe (based on no concrete evidence) that this series will extend way beyond just three titles – and I hope it justifies that in the end, with minor changes. Here too much effort was put in to the realism of the Victorian Imperialism – if you ever see earthly nineteenth century global politics and get bewildered, there's little chance of you enjoying this equivalent as greatly as intended. But there are just about enough action scenes, more than enough strong characterisation – and yes, just enough dragons – for this to nudge into the category marked intriguing, if not quite onto the shelf marked really good.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan is where the other series of hers we've had the pleasure of covering begins. For more historically-inspired fantasy we enjoyed The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander.

Buy The Tropic of Serpents (A Memoir by Lady Trent) by Marie Brennan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Tropic of Serpents (A Memoir by Lady Trent) by Marie Brennan at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Tropic of Serpents (A Memoir by Lady Trent) by Marie Brennan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Tropic of Serpents (A Memoir by Lady Trent) by Marie Brennan at Amazon.com.

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