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.
I was slightly surprised that The Tropic of Serpents started a couple of years after A Natural History of Dragons left off, but it makes sense given the structure of the narrative. It's more that A Natural History of Dragons ended on a life-changing note that I expected to be picked up straight-away in The Tropic of Serpents. But of course, these books are about Isabella's travels and studies of dragons, so it makes sense that it picks up the story just before her next trip. We get the important points from the intervening time filled in and get maximal dragon-centric story.
I say maximal dragons but I did find this one a little slow at times, especially near the start. It got very interesting in the middle and the end — and a lot of the political discussion near the start was essential for the end to make sense — but I found myself quite able to put the book down during the opening sections. On the other hand, I should stress I was never bored with it and generally didn't put it down for long (it was more that I had other books and stories to read too).
My favourite this about this instalment is the detail with which Brennan shows us a new civilisation as Isabella herself learns about it. The tropical swamp setting was not what I would have guessed going into the book (although maybe it would have been if I'd looked at the map more closely). Of course this is also an opportunity to tell us even more about dragons and the different varieties Isabella encounters in yet another part of the world.
It was also nice to see Natalie and the more minor female characters that appeared in this book. I was a little disappointed that Isabella didn't have very many women to talk to in A Natural History of Dragons (other than her difficult-to-understand maid) and I was glad that The Tropic of Serpents introduced another lady scientist and better yet (minor spoiler coming), one who appeared to be on the asexual spectrum, which was sort of relevant to the plot but not such that a big fuss was made over it. (And of course in pseudo-Victorian pseudo-England such words did not exist in the contexts they do now.)
Overall I enjoyed The Tropic of Serpents quite a lot. Perhaps a little less than A Natural History of Dragons, but I'm certainly enjoying the continuing story and I found the excitement of the end made up for the slowness of the start. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the first and this series to fans of dragons, lady scientists and secondary world fantasy.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2014, Tor Books
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent book 2 of 5
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks