A Slow yet Interesting Read | Review of ‘The Tropic of Serpents’ (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #2)

By Cynthia Ayala

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
Tor Books
Image Credit: Goodreads

Isabella’s second memoir recounts her adventures in a war-torn land where dragons roam. And as always, everything that can go wrong does. Abandoning her son with her estranged family, Isabella continues to march to the beat of her own drum, going against the oppressive nature of her social standing and fighting to make a name for herself as a woman and a scholar.

Published February 17, 2015 by Tor Books, The Tropic of Serpents is the second novel in Marie Brennan‘s historical fiction/fantasy memoir-style book about a woman and her study of dragons.

This novel is very much what it claims to be—a memoir—and with that, the reader has to know that this is going to be a slow book because even though the novel is about the study of dragon’s, the dragons are rarely featured and it is more about the character, Isabella, and her adventures into a male dominated world. It has a strong feministic tone to it without that tone being too overpowering that to the point where it might isolate the reader and remove them from the text and the character. Isabella is a very strong character and the world she lives in is still very Victorian. As a woman, she should be at home with her son, but for her, while she cares for her son, she want’s to explore, she wants to study dragons and make a name for herself as a scholar. She has a strength that the reader can relate to, but she also has a heart, she has a gentle kindness to balance her firm side that makes her relatable. Seeing through her narrative, the reader can understand her. While everyone is chastising her for “abandoning” her son, she isn’t, she is simply pursuing her career, and for her to take her son into a war-torn land would be bad parenting. Isabelle’s refusal to let societal norms dictate her life is what makes her a relatable character. Not only that but Brennan has given her a vibrant personality as well. Isabella is funny, she’s charismatic, and her reactions to some of the events in the novel are so realistic making them hilarious to read.

The biggest downside of the novel is the storytelling. Yes, Lady Trent is on her second adventure into a swampy land to study some dragons, but the dragons are rarely present, unlike with the first novel, which is a bit of a disappointment. There is much world building seeing as she is venturing onto another continent and just like any memoir, she is exploring the land and the people within the land. The exposition slows the pace of the novel down so much. Not only that, but there is too much telling and not enough showing. Exploring the swamp lands could have been more humorous, paced quicker, if the author and showed what was going on and really sat down to explore some of those thoughts of the narrator about being in the swamp. Instead, she tells the reader what is happening, how miserable it is without focusing on the emotional thoughts of the character. Is she annoyed? Is she frustrated? Is it disgusting traipsing in the swamp in a dress? These are questions Brennan could have answered by getting into the nit and grit of the narrative. But instead, Brennan keeps everything too “proper” which doesn’t allow the characters to really flourish in this swampy land.

Readers have to keep in mind that this is very much a memoir that happens to have dragons, and it reads very much like a memoir than an adventure story. Expecting more than that will only make this a disappointing read. (★★★☆☆ | C+)

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