Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: The Tropic of Serpents

After gushing about Marie Brennan's first book about the intrepid Isabella, Lady Trent and her voyages to discover dragons, I felt like I would be remiss if I didn't spend at least a little bit of time talking about the second book in the series. This one focuses on her journeys into the swamps of Mouleen (an ahistorical continent with clear parallels to colonial Africa) to study swamp dragons, during which she gets unavoidably swept up in local politics.

It's the local politics that take up a lot of the book, which is a little disappointing if you come to the novel looking for dragons, dragons and more dragons. On the other hand, Brennan does a good job of conveying, through Isabella's slow realization that her country may not have the finest interests of Mouleen at heart, the contradictory and messy interests that lie at the heart of the colonial mentality. Being something of an outsider in her own homeland due to her decision to pursue a traditionally male career, she's positioned perfectly to notice that the Scirling (read: British) promises of aid and comfort tend to come with a lot of armed men, and not a few concessions to a superior military force. Her decisions regarding that ugly truth behind the "White Man's Burden" myth form the narrative's spine.

There are also further developments in the slightly ominous metaplot that was seeded in the first novel--having discovered that preserved dragonbone is as light as aluminum and durable as steel, Isabella spends no small amount of time in the book attempting to avert a resource war over the rare and endangered dragon species that we already know (since this is presented as her memoirs) has already happened. This book keeps that to the background, but it informs the entire story with the slow drumbeats of impending conflict. There's a lot of very clever metaphor going on here, with dragons standing in for any number of precious and irreplaceable natural, they're freaking dragons, which is always cool.

I'd recommend the second book just as strongly as the first. It takes a bit longer to get to the dragons, but the time it develops other themes is time well spent.

1 comment:

Misha said...

I read the first book purely on the basis of your review, and was delighted. I'll pick this up as well. Thanks!