Monday, 30 July 2018

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan is the fifth and final volume in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series. It is a marvellous conclusion to that series and I highly recommend readers that began the series persist until its conclusion. I picked this book up as soon as I finished the fourth instalment, In the Labyrinth of Drakes, and I devoured it in a day. This review contains minor spoilers for the earlier books in the series.

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.

What was really interesting, and clear from the beginning of this book, is that this series does not only tell the story of Isabella's life and dragon studies. It also tells the story of how the world changed over the course of her life and how she was a catalyst for a surprising amount of that change. From Isabella and friends' accidental discovery of dragon bone preservation in the first book, the world has come a long way to airships made of that substance. Not to mention the other events on the world stage that were set in motion from that discovery and the theft thereof. These events more than the elder memoirist's reminiscences of the state of the world at that time (in between the main events) highlights just how much the world — and Isabella herself, who is now 40 or so — has changed.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings starts similarly to the other books in the series, with Isabella presented with a draconic lure and planning a trip to the other side of the world. The story appears to progress along a similar template to her other adventures, this time as they travel to the not-Himalayas, but the usual progression of things is turned upside down earlier than expected. I have no intention of spoiling this book, but the discoveries made in this one are of world-shaking significance and, quite frankly, I am impressed that memoirist Isabella didn't even hint at them in the earlier books. Especially since she's writing from a future where the knowledge she has discovered has become commonplace. I applaud Brennan for resisting the urge to drop any hints earlier (or if she did, I didn't notice them until Isabella of the story did).

Overall, this was an excellent conclusion to a delightful series. I would not be surprised if I ended up rereading it in a few years and it will certainly go down as one of my favourite series. The combination of worldbuilding, the narrator's voice, and the very scientific way in which dragons were studied was the perfect combination for me. I feel like there should be a subgenre describing this kind of science-minded fantasy, but alas "science fantasy" conjures up magic in space rather than dragon scientists.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings was a brilliant read and I highly recommend it to anyone who has read the preceding books in the series. I said in my last review that these books are fairly self-contained. While that is more or less true, I definitely do not recommend reading Within the Sanctuary of Wings without having read the earlier four volumes. The marvel of it depends a lot upon knowledge of the previous books and would be significantly lessened without that buildup. Read it, but read the prequels first, starting with A Natural History of Dragons.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Tor Books
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent book 5 of 5
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks/Apple Books

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