The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan – Review

Cover- The Tropic of Serpents

Rating: 4.0/5.0


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.

The Tropic of Serpents is the second novel in which Lady Trent recounts her numerous adventures she has whilst studying dragons. This time around she’s travelling to a jungle in the middle of a politically unstable area to study the Moulish Swamp Wyrm. Jungles seem like terrible places to visit after one learns of the multitude of disgusting parasites that can be acquired there. The jungle herein is no different and malaria and yellow-fever afflict the party of natural historians. I honestly have no idea where I was actually going with that, but it does happen.

I adore these books! They are set in a world that’s somewhat Victorian and Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent) is a woman fighting for her place in the scientific community. She is determined to do such profound work that the typically male societies must let her join them, but that isn’t really the focus of the books. The books focus on her passion for dragons of all sorts and the adventures and mishaps that come about as a result of her determined nature. She also discusses the criticism she receives from her family, other women, and men of the society in which she lives. Isabella is incredibly passionate about her studies and I can totally relate to this as a former biology student, though she faces opposition in droves, and I was encouraged.

The Tropic of Serpents (as well as the first book) is a convincingly written memoir. If the world were a bigger place than it is now, I would be quite convinced that studying dragons was a legitimate scholarly pursuit. Enough well-thought out “science” was put into the book, along with the more exciting bits of Isabella’s life in the field and exotic lands that it makes for a very compelling story. As the narrator, Isabella Camherst leaves out parts that she deems tedious or irrelevant and even cites some of her “publications”.

Now, though I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, it left no breathtaking impact on me. I wasn’t left awake at night pondering the possibility of hidden meaning in a sentence or anything like that. This was like a literary vacation, or something to cleanse your palate. It was fun, refreshing, and definitely well-written prose. I won’t be quoting it anytime soon, but I think the whole series would be a great addition to any fantasy lover’s collection.


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