Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Since I enjoyed Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons so much, I decided to buy the next book in the series, The Tropic of Serpents. I'm glad I did, since this book is one of those rare sequels that's just as good, if not better, than the original.

At the beginning of the book, we find Isabella Camhurst still chafing at the restrictions of her Victorian society, especially the expectations placed on mothers like herself. Though it's clear Isabella loves her son, she'd much prefer to be his intellectual mentor than his nursemaid. This tension between Isabella's role as a mother and her desire to continue studying dragons gives this book greater emotional depth and maturity than the first book. What's more, despite the Victorian-esque setting, Isabella's inner conflict feels surprisingly modern and relatable.

Like its predecessor, The Tropic of Serpents has plenty of adventure, fun, and of course, dragons. Isabella's scientific discoveries are hard won, but they also reveal a whole new dimension to her favorite creatures. Brennan's sympathetic depictions of the different societies, especially the non-European ones, make her world fascinating and diverse.

If the book has a weakness, it's Brennan's secondary characters. Tom Wilker is well drawn, and the awkward tension between him and Isabella is as funny and stiffly British as I could have hoped. But Natalie, Isabella's companion, has no real character apart from being Isabella's engineering friend. She seemed more like a convenient placeholder than a fully-realized person. That said, I think the concept of a female engineer in this time period could be exciting. Perhaps in the next book Brennan will develop her more.

In short, I'd highly recommend The Tropic of Serpents to anyone. It's a fun book, with an incredibly memorable and complex heroine. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Voyage of the Basilisk!

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