Review: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

4 out of 5 stars

No sophomore slump for Lady Trent… I mean… Marie Brennan! This is the 2nd book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series (that sounds awkward but wasn’t sure how else to put it.) If you want to read my review of the first one, clickity clickity HERE. And there are spoilers for the first book in this review.

This is the continuing story of Lady Trent’s life… even though we don’t know her as Lady Trent. She is writing this in her elder years, after all her travels are over. At the time of this book, she is a young widow, still Mrs. Camherst, three years on from her first foray as a natural historian into the wilds of Drustanev. She has published a book (and put her late husband’s name on it) and other articles that her patron, Lord Hilford put his name on. Why, you ask? Because this world, though set in an alternate universe, is still as sexist and fucked up as ours. It feels very Victorian, especially when it comes to gender roles and the behavior of well-bred women. And the idea of a women traipsing into the jungle or the savannah, living rough, making scholarly discoveries, and basically using her brain and not her baby maker, is horrifying to fashionable society. She does have a young son, and of course, she must be an evil, horrible woman if she will consider putting excursions into the field before him. She is very frank about that and I just felt for her. I thought it was a very true, honest (even if fictional) confession about motherhood and again, gender rolls, because as she points out, no one expects a man to stay home while his children are young. I just thought it was another layer to Isabella’s character and added a lot to the narrative.

As a matter of fact, she’s become a virtual recluse. She faced a lot of backlash after what happened in Drustanev. Isabella’s own mother blames her for her husband’s death, and her best friend’s family no longer want her to be seen with the unladylike widow. They fear it will impede her getting a husband. However, that friend, Natalie, has other plans for her future. As a result, when Isabella goes on her next expedition, she has not only the wrath of society and her family as baggage, but a runaway heiress. Mr. Wilker is also going but their patron, Lord Hilford is now too old and rheumatic to go. They are heading for a political hotbed called Bayembe, surrounded by hostile warrior nations.

The last book took place in a very European setting, but this is in an African or South American type of land – or a mix of both. I thought it was handled really well. There are a lot of ethnic and societal groups – almost too many. My only complaint in this one was the flood of names of people and lands and political groups. I couldn’t keep it straight and literally just ignored a lot of it. I didn’t really understand what was going on politically until near the end of the book. And it wasn’t until then that it really mattered. And Isabella had learned her lesson about not treating people who are not of her class (read: wealthy and white) are not beneath her, but are also complex beings. So it’s a new, more understanding Isabella who goes to this hot and forbidding land. It was also not a matter of a white person going and saving the dark people. The plot was deftly handled so that though she was involved, it was the people of that land who really figured out how to do what needed to be done. As a matter of fact, at one point, she is straight up told that she is not in charge of handling the situation. She is in the swamp but she is not of the swamp.

But before all this, they went to Eriga to study the dragons, most likely the ones in the savannah. Their secret hope is to get into the forbidden forest of Mouleen, home to the swamp-wyrms (think alligator with wings). It’s basically an enormous swamp, full of dangerous animals, snakes, even fangfish (like piranha only scarier). A chance encounter with the sister of the oba (the king) helps them get permission to go. However, there is also the matter of the Moulish people. Anyone that goes into the Green Hell disappears. The oba has a man on his staff who has knowledge of the inner workings of Mouleen. He is mysterious about his past, but he’s able to get them into the forest and introduces them to a group of Moulish, calling himself their brother and asking for help to study the dragons. I loved the world-building in this, and the Moulish people were just… cool. They lived in harmony with their land, they have a close. almost spiritual relationship with the dragons. And they really taught Isabella a thing or two. More than about natural history, about herself and dealing with other people.

This has a lot of politics but it also has a lot of action-adventure, near misses, total mishap, abduction and dragons! Just another wonderful installment in this series. I desperately want the next but damn, these hardbacks are expensive. I bought A Natural History of Dragons used and Tropic of Serpents from Book Outlet… I’m gonna wait until I can get the third one a little cheaper. Also… trying not to buy ALLL THE BOOKS! Because seriously, I have enough freaking books to read.

And of course, here are some pictures of this amazing illustrations in this book, which are so special.

Thank you so much for stopping by. Happy reading!


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