The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
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.
I want you to use your imagination for a minute. Imagine you are watching an Indiana Jones movie. Now, imagine that instead of opening with a great action-packed adventure sequence, the movie starts at the university. Maybe Dr. Jones is lecturing, the girls staring happily at him. Now, imagine that Indy stays at the university for the first HALF HOUR with no adventure whatsoever.
That’s what reading The Tropic of Serpents was like.
For the firsts hundred pages, an entire third of the book!, there was no adventure at all. There was talking. A LOT of talking. Even once Isabella and her friends began their journey, it was primarily politics. And on that note, like the previous book, the whole thing would have been less confusing if Brennan had stuck to England, Africa, and other actual places. Her fantasy places were so similar as to be indistinguishable from our world. Instead the odd names, which were often not explained, left me feeling confused.
About halfway through the pace finally began to pick up and the story finally got interesting. I enjoyed learning more about dragons, and the rainforest setting led to some fun and exciting adventures. Some real character development started happening, especially to Isabella, who finally admitted to herself that she wasn’t the best mom and wanted to be a better one.
Interesting dragon-lore is an absolute must in order for me to enjoy a dragon novel. And while A Natural History of Dragons certainly provided a unique foundation, The Tropic of Serpents expanded on it in ways I would never have expected. The life cycle of swamp-wyrms was especially fascinating and unique.
However, unlike in A Natural History of Dragons, most of what the academics learn about dragon-lore in this novel isn’t shared with the reader. While Isabella does explain the most interesting and necessary information, she purposefully leaves out a good chunk of it out of respect for the cultures who shared it with her. And a great deal more is evidently left out, presumably because we are encouraged to read her scholarly writing in order to discover it. But as her scholarly writings do no actually exist, that left me feeling a bit frustrated.
While I enjoyed The Tropic of Serpents, it certainly wasn’t as good as the first book, especially with its slow beginning. While I will most likely finish this series at some point, I don’t necessarily feel anxious to find out what happens next or anything.