The Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

The first two books in this series are covered in an earlier review.

After a wait for Voyage of the Basilisk (acquired through inter-library loan), I devoured the last three books of this series. The setup for the twist in Within the Sanctuary of Wings was sufficiently obvious through that I had spotted it mid-series. Especially once Isabella married.

But whatever the lack of surprise, it is more than made up for by the fast-paced adventures, foolishness and the Victorian woman willing to risk her family life in order to make scientific discoveries. The “science” is good fun, and the weaving in of other disciplines adds depth. Regular readers may recall I was quite taken by a drive to discover a lost language, and the Temeraire series which is another non-traditional “dragon history”.

If fast-paced fantasy novels are your thing, then these are good reads, and Isabella makes a fabulous heroine, always ready to try something foolhardy and usually win out. At a fair few points I could only bring myself to keep reading in the knowledge that as the writer of her own memoir, she surely couldn’t die in this adventure.

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A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents – Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

As a lover of both science writing and fantasy, especially that not set in pseudo-medieval worlds, this appealed to me instantly when recommended, and was promptly ordered from the library. Lady Trent is a wonderful character, a wilful daughter of the aristocracy when scientific careers are only permitted for men, and finds her own way to happiness.

There are wild dragons, but in England they are tiny insects for a young girl’s imagination to be captured. But as she grows into a woman, she has a systematic study of the sparklings rather than just a habit of watching them. But as a woman she cannot (yet) speak in the scientific societies, but instead has to carve her own, more difficult route.

These books are wonderful for their dragons, Isabella’s passion, the science and the feminist journey. I am ordering book three as soon as I’ve made a dent in my TBR pile. For some reason that one is missing from the library set, so I can’t get hold of it that way.

The Temeraire Series (9 titles) – Naomi Novik

I first started the Temeraire series some years ago, but ran out of momentum on book 6 (The Tongues of Serpents) which had a very weak ending. But on this reread I felt driven to continue on through the rest of the books, which return the series to the high standards of the series start.

Set in Napoleonic times, dragons are as important to the defence of Britain as its’ navy is, and Temeraire is a large and talented dragon, so obviously forms a key part of this. But he is not given just this simple role, but instead we learn about more of his talents as he undergoes character development and finds his own place in the world. His companion Laurence has similar struggles as he makes life-changing moral decisions and deals with love, the war and friendship on firstly the terms of others, and gradually his own terms.

Each book moves around the world, although some settings are returned to, and the cast around Temeraire evolves as life for a deployed member of His Majesty’s Service continues. I like the imaginative way that dragons become part of the Napoleonic era without displacing true history too much, and how they do not instantly solve problems but instead present new ones. But the best subplot is the one around dragons’ personhood, set against a backdrop of the abolition of the slave trade by parliament. This beast that can destroy ships and kill soldiers without effort has far more interest as a political being than as a warrior.

Seraphina – Rachel Hartman

Seraphina coverSeraphina is a novel about family and racism in a divided community. This is set up in the prologue when we really do start “at the beginning” with the birth of Seraphina and an appropriate amount of shock.

The book then doesn’t mention what was so shocking but instead begins by setting the scene in a pseudo-medieval city with an implausibly talented and senior fifteen year old heroine. We firstly view the racism through the prism of it being something “others” suffer, although there is always compassion for them, and then the prism twists slightly and it all becomes much more personal.

There is of course a love interest, although I was satisfied that this was concluded realistically as I spent a good portion of the book worried that something utterly infeasible would happen. Friendship and family ties is a much stronger theme though, even as decisions made due to desire are acknowledged.

I like the magic involved and how much of it is just taken for granted as “technology” except by the fearful mob leaders. Of course such things wouldn’t remain wondrous for long and would quickly be assumed to just be how life is. These days we all carry a portal to a vast database of knowledge in our pockets.

The Adamantine Palace – Stephen Deas

The Adamantine Palace is a traditional human-dragon, mountains and castles fantasy story with a different look at how we could control these creations given their relative size and strength combined with a greedy and violent nature. This idea is interesting, with the question throughout the novel of how the dragons had originally been enslaved.

There are plenty of good, fully developed characters in here, with complex political and emotional motives. With a few poisoning plots, theft and murder thrown in, there is plenty to entertain. Enough to fill a book twice this size, once world-building is taken into account. Possibly a strict editor was involved in this.

I loved the little descriptions of dragon-rider etiquette between the chapters, and the tension created as the threats to from the political intregue develop. I’ll definitely be looking for more of Deas’ books