Review. Marie Brennan, Voyage Of The Basilisk

There is a first time for everything, and as such, this is the first time I started and caught up with a series within a short span of time. Short being defined as half a year and series meaning three books. Still, it’s an achievement, knowing me. I like variety in my reading and thus get sidetracked from series by other series and so the cycle continues.. You catch my drift.
Marie Brennan’s Memoir Of Lady Trent, however, caught my attention early on in the year and I kept going back for the sequel in relatively short fashion. They’re not big books, that for one, but they are also a breath of fresh air compared to what I normally read. And a fresh breeze is certainly what you get on board of the Basilisk, the setting for the majority of Brennan’s latest and finest book to date.

Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.
Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.

This is the third installment in Lady Trent’s Memoirs, and by now you know what you’re in for. As with the previous novels, the book depicts a rather eventful period in the life of Isabella Camherst, and it might be the most exciting yet. Perhaps it’s because I’m acquainted with the way these novels work, or perhaps it just is the best out of the three, but I enjoyed this book tremendously.
Antics, mishaps and same-sex marriage
It’s been years since Isabella went on her first trip and as Voyage Of The Basilisk starts, we see her really starting to come into her own as a scientist and demanding her own space in society. We don’t spend all too much time in her cosy chairs at home, debating Natural History, and before long we’re boarding a ship – the Basilisk – and set out on a two-year journey across the world. It wouldn’t be a trip with Isabella if things didn’t go as planned and from there on, it’s one moment of brilliance after the other. Antics, mishaps and same-sex marriage fill these pages alongside dragons, sea serpents and foreign politics. Much like the previous novels, Voyage Of The Basilisk invites the reader to ponder on issues bigger than dragons. See, while on the surface these books are about a funny lady researching dragons, there is a second layer to the story. The first book took up the issue of a woman’s place in society whereas the sequel highlighted different cultures and their totems and taboos. Voyage does the same and makes you reflect upon the role of gender in society and how our beliefs concerning gender and sexuality are nothing more but a cultural construct. Without these issues being shoved down the reader’s throat, we join Isabella as she experiences these things and reflects upon them.
the Isabella Camherst-show
Part of what makes these books such a joy to read is the main character. It is by no means the Isabella Camherst-show, but she is a wonderful character, one that allows and shows growth. Whose experiences shape but do not define nor limit her. It’s especially great not only to witness her growth as a scientist, but as a person as well. The Isabella that ends her journey on the Basilisk is no more the Isabella that started out in the first novel than I am. In this, she is assisted by a ovely cast of secondary characters. While they have their own merits and have their own story, they take their role as supporting characters seriously, in that they support Isabella in carrying the story to the last page. They may not be as fleshed out as she is, but for the purpose of these novels, that’s not really an issue. I do wish Tom would take the spotlight more, though. But with two more books to go in this series, I’m quietly hopeful that his time will come.
The packaging of the book is the cherry on top. Beautifully solid writing and gorgeous art, inside and out, makes this book a delight to read.

If you have not already, I hereby urge you to try this series. It might not be your typical Victorian Age-fantasy that goes all out, guns blazing, but it’s unique in what it does. And what Brennan does, she does with elegance and wit. Past the halfway point in the series, but I have a feeling that Isabella is saving the best for last.

★ ★ ★ ★

Book your voyage on the Basilisk while you still can. Tickets here.

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