Earlier this year, Marie Brennan’s A Natural History Of Dragons was a big surprise. Where I started that book with no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the adventure and sass it contained. After that, the sequel, The Tropic Of Serpents, had something to live up to. High standards aren’t easily met and initial disappointment can rear its ugly head. Even when dragons are involved..
Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, in which she lost her husband, the widowed Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the savage, 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.
This novel is very much similar in structure to its predecessor. It starts with Isabella Camherst at home, some antics there to set the tone and off she goes on a new adventure. While the idea behind the adventure is very much alike, it’s slightly different in the way that it is more a political/antropological tale rather than a search for dragons. In fact, upon finishing the book, I felt like it wouldn’t be a much different story if there weren’t any dragons at all. I kept waiting for them to make a big appearance, but I was left feeling underwhelmed.
That’s not to say that the story wasn’t in any way good. On the contrary, after digesting my initial disappointment, I could appreciate the novel for what it was. Whereas the first book shows us some clashing cultures, this one does that even more and even better. It paints a vivid picture of the swampish area and the Totems and Taboos of the people living there. I particularly loved how their beliefs and traditions induced some cracks in the facade of our expedition party and how it led to a particularly heartfelt moment.
This, of course, is also due to the characters who are so peculiar, unique and likeable. Isabella once again shines as the heroine. The antics, the stuff she sais, does and befalls her… It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s different, witty and clever. Her two travelling companions do well to complement her and have some lovely interactions and the secondary characters make for a picture perfect. This is perhaps one of the strengths of this book and series, it’s all so very well balanced, so though through, but without feeling contrived of formulaic. The writing itself fits the story, the time period, so well it makes for a very pleasant reading experience.
In the end, I swallowed my disappointment over the absence of dragon-action, cause this series isn’t about dragons. It’s about a brave woman trying to defy the role society prescribes her. She’s fighting to be herself, to persue what she wants, rather than shutting up and being pretty. This all in a world where dragons appear to live and hold her fascination. With this in mind, these books can do nothing less than becoming the object of your own fascination.
★ ★ ★ ★
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