Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Review: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan + Giveaway (US/CA)

#2 in the Memoir by Lady Trent series 
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Tor 
Pages: 331
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

I was lost in the depths of despair

I've been having a serious streak of bad luck when it comes to books this year. I haven't even reviewed all of them because I've just felt so meh and disappointed about them.

But that all ends now with the latest installment in the Memoir by Lady Trent series.

Until I found a bosom friend in Lady Trent

I was shocked last year at how much I adored the first book A Natural History of Dragons, and while it ended just fine as a standalone, I desperately hoped it would not remain so.

Thankfully, there's a sequel (and now a third book announced!), and I think Tropic of Serpents might be even better than the first.

Isabella is a significant part of why I can't get enough of this series. She's a character trope for sure, but I love this type of character, so I don't mind at all.

Think of her as a dragon-loving Amelia Peabody or a grown up Theodosia. She has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and she isn't afraid to take risks if it means satisfying her curiosity.

But she isn't just a character of action, as so many Strong Female Characters tend to be. Nor is she damaged, thank goodness, which seems to be the other prevailing feature of insufferable SFCs.

Isabella examines her own motives and feelings with the same studious eye she applies to dragon anatomy, and while she finds this thoroughly uncomfortable, she forces herself to confront them anyway. She totally earned my admiration with her fortitude and courage.

Like the Strong Female Character trope, we also have the Strong Feminist, and I guess you could put Isabella into that category too because she thoroughly bucks society's expectations of what is proper behavior for a woman. But, she doesn't do it for a Cause, again, thankfully! because I'm sorry to say but I find that so tiresome.

She does it because it is what she must do. Isabella knows what makes her happy in life, and she doesn't let anyone or any expectation stand in her way. This doesn't come easy, though, and I appreciated that Marie Brennan took the time to examine the conflict Isabella inevitably feels between following her duty and giving in to her desire.

She grew a lot over the course of this book and I was absolutely cheering her by the end!    

If only she'd break her slate over his head

If you've read the first book, then you know what happens in the end. So you know, the door is open for, let's say, possibilities.

(Also, if you've been keeping track of the names, Trent is neither Isabella's maiden name nor Jacob's surname. Just saying.)

(And, yeah, I know it's also NOT the last name of a certain combative other character who appeared in the first book and plays an even larger role Tropic of Serpents, but that did not in any way stop me from wishing for something more).

But, all the parentheticals aside, this is not a kissing book. There isn't any romance (despite society's gossip and my desire to believe it) and, honestly, given the events of the previous book and all the growth Isabella needed to accomplish I (grudgingly) guess that's ok.

Still, they make for a very entertaining and mutually respectful friendship. And, as a woman and a man of low birth, I have high hopes that I will get to see them take down society's stodgy Rules for who can and who cannot conduct scientific research.

"Because if you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while"

Isabella is half the reason I love these books, but her adventures make up the other half.

While the world is a totally fictional place made up of overly-complicated yet typically fantasyish names, it is basically our world circa 1800s-ish. Scriland is England, and Eriga (the setting of this installment) is Africa.

If I didn't enjoy saying Scriland so much (it really rolls off the tongue) I'd say my one complaint is that I wish Marie Brennan had just made this a historical fantasy series and set everything in our own real countries. I mean, who are we fooling here?

(Then again, had she done that I'd probably complain about her changing history, which is something I usually take issue with.)

But, the only part where I really started to zone out and lose interest was when Isabella started talking about the politics between the various countries. Now, you know me, I LIVE for fictional politics! Especially when there's shady dealings and imminent war, which was the case here (between not just two, but THREE nations!)

So why wasn't I stoked? Because I had a hard time keeping track of the nations. Between the weird pronunciations and the This-fictional-country-is-really-That-real-country mental match ups I spent more time puzzling out the Who when I should have been indulging my penchant for political intrigue focusing on the What. I got it all sorted, but the way it was presented really pulled me out of the story.

But that was the only time that happened, because Marie Brennan NAILS it when it comes to immersion. After a fun jaunt across the (basically) African savannah where I got to indulge all my childhood Nature-watching dreams and go on a safari hunt (!!!), we trekked through a place called the Green Hell, and oh my gosh, a place was never named more appropriately.

The Green Hell was miserable, which is to say, it was AWESOME! I felt like I was right there with Isabella with the humidity and the bugs and the diseases and the wonderland of natural and cultural discoveries! There's also a Secret To Unravel relating to the dragons living there and the answer was totally unexpected yet fit very nicely.

Bottom line

I can't rave about the Memoir by Lady Trent series enough! I haven't read anything quite like it, and when I'm not reading this series a part of my brain is always wishing I had the next book in my hands. I can't wait to follow Isabella on her next adventure.

Perhaps the best compliment I can give is that I got so completely sucked into Tropic of Serpents that it felt like I was living and breathing the experiences right next to Isabella, who I'm half convinced is actually a real live person living off in in the world somewhere (along with Sherlock Holmes).

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Tropic of Serpents that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Do you know any other books like this?


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: Three winners will each get a  finished copy of Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is for US/CA addresses only
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on May 31st 


  1. I have seen these books and the cover art alone looks amazing!

    1. The cover art really is cool. Even better, there are equally amazing illustrations within!

  2. I keep thinking I should give these books a try, and your raving endorsement is helping!

  3. What a FANTASTIC review - and Special Shelf material. Yay!!! So exciting. I would love to see a hard copy of this book. The illustrations I'm sure are to die for. I'm so stoked you enjoyed this one as much as you did, even more amped up about a THIRD book! Yippee!

  4. I remember the dragon's book!
    LOL, And I love that they have kept the theme with the covers, actually because they are very kick ass and different and cool.

    Sadly, I am the kind of person who needs romance in her books so I don't see myself reading this one soon, but I'll keep it in mind for when the series is over :)

  5. I had totally forgotten about how much you made me want to read the first book in this series until right now, having read this review for the sequel. Sounds SO good! I love that the protag is one that you love and one that you love to follow on adventures. This one really DOES sound unlike anything I've ever read before and you GOT to love that.


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