The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan: Review

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
Title: The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir of Lady Trent
Author: Marie Brennan
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: March 2014
Length: 336
Series: Memoir of Lady Trent (#2)
Audio or Book: Book
Reason for Discovery: Sword & Laser Book Club

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

From GoodReads:

The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan's The Tropic of Serpents. 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 this second volume in her memoirs collection, Mrs. Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent) describes the  exciting adventures that she had while visiting Eriga where she was studying the swamp-wyrms. Like in Vystrana in A Natural History of Dragons, Mrs. Camherst finds herself not only having to manage keeping her person and party safe from the dragons but also from the people who want to take advantage of the dragons for their own nefarious purposes.

Do you like dragons? Do you like memoirs? Are you thinking about trying fantasy books but they make you a bit nervous? Do you like reading books about people who study natural history, anthropology, or zoology? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you should read this series. Seriously. This post will still be here when you get back from the store.

Let's talk about what I like about this book (and this series). This series is written as Mrs. Camherst's memoirs (with just a dash more of dialogue than you would expect in a traditional memoir). I find this to be a unique approach to this fantasy series. There is a nice combination of Mrs. Camherst rehashing what she was thinking in the moment when she was on an adventure and what she thinks now that she is older and wiser. I really like this writing style for this book, because it makes everything feel more grounded and believable. If it wasn't for the dragons and the fictional country names, I may have forgotten that I was reading a fictional memoir and just thought that this was a memoir by a very adventurous woman in the Victorian era.

The story in this sequel took place predominately in Eriga. It was interesting seeing how Mrs. Camherst and her team get to Eriga and how they manage the cultural and political differences between their native Scirland and Eriga. In regards to the adventure, I felt that it moved a bit slower than the adventure in A Natural History of Dragons; however, the story still kept my attention. Mrs. Camherst always seems to find herself on the wrong end of a spear, gun, or bow and arrow. I am always excited to see how she is going to get herself out of her latest jam.

I was a tiny bit disappointed that we didn't get to see more of her homeland of Scirland (what we would consider England) and the difficulties that she experiences there. Specifically, she is trying to get recognized by the scholars of her time, but they are not keen to acknowledge a female scholar. What is great about this series being a collection of memoirs instead of your standard adventure series is that the readers know that she will ultimately become famous enough that people want to publish her memoirs. We just don't know how she gets to that point in her career.

I loved being able to get to know Mrs. Camherst and her friends more in this book. I am not going to go into detail about anyone besides Mrs. Camherst in an effort to avoid spoilers for A Natural History of Dragons. Mrs. Camherst is definitely an interesting and three-dimensional character. She has her strengths and her weaknesses. Unlike many female fantasy characters who seem to be perfect in every way except being stubborn (in a cute way), Mrs. Camherst has some flaws like being stubborn in a very non-cute way. Sometimes Mrs. Camherst does things that drive me crazy, but her actions always seem true to the character and seem true for the time period. Would I want to be best friends with Mrs. Camherst? No. I don't think we would get along super well. Would I want to meet Mrs. Camherst and hear more about her adventures? Yes, most definitely. She lived an exciting life. Mrs. Camherst might be similar in some ways of a modern woman of the 21st century, but she is also very much a woman of her Victorian times in some of her attitudes. Personally, I find this refreshing. I want the Victorian era to feel somewhat genuine, not just a backdrop.

I need to take a quick moment to mention the drawings! There are several sketches that Mrs. Camherst drew during her adventures scattered throughout the book. I think these drawings really add to the feeling that you are reading a memoir.

Rereading my review, I noticed that I don't talk a lot about the dragons. I should rectify that. The dragons in this series are smart and have their own dragon-y way of life in the same way elephants or gorillas do. These are not talking dragons, these dragons are animals, very large and potentially dangerous animals. For me, this adds to the realism of the story, and I really enjoy it. If you were expecting Temeraire from Naomi Novik's series or Kazul from Patricia C Wrede's series, you will be frustrated.

Overall, I really enjoyed this second book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I found it a fun and exciting read. I can't wait to see where Mrs. Camherst goes next and what new facts she learns about dragons. Now if I could just get my hands on copies of all the book covers in this series to hang on my wall, I would be in SF&F heaven!

I give this book a 4 out of 5.
Very Good
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