Book Reviews

Book Review- The Tropic of Serpents by Maria Brennan



I purchased a copy of this book for my own enjoyment, and with no expectation of a review.


Second in the Lady Trent series, Brennan’s Tropic of Serpents doesn’t disappoint! Isabella continues her research into dragons, this time heading to Bayembe and Mouleen, there to study savannah and tree ‘snakes’(serpentine dragons), and the Moulish swamp wyrms.


As with the previous book, sketches by Isabella are scattered throughout, and the cover features a swamp-wyrm. These sketches within include other dragonish creatures such as the drakeflys, which resemble flying, feathery snakes with four wings, and the terrifying fang fish whose face kinda reminded me of the dragon-serpent Pokémon Gyrados, if Gyrados were drawn realistically.


Isabella, along with Mr Wilker, and her friend Natalie, get to play ethnographer again when they travel into Mouleen. The vast swampy area known locally as the ‘green hell’ is home to the Moulish, short-statured, egalitarian nomads. To survive the Green Hell, the expedition must befriend the Moulish, becoming part of the group.


During the course of their time in Bayembe and Mouleen, Isabella and crew face deadly illness, deadly creatures (a pissed hippo is a fearsome adversary indeed), the myriad vagaries of human custom, and the perils of political predators alike. We see the depth of Isabella’s empathy in how she chooses to handle the political quagmire, and what is best for the local people and environment. How often do people make the ‘right’ choice, the moral/ ethical choice over the greed-driven choice. Sometimes, I think corporations have lost that ability. Many individuals too, sadly.


While not Victorian England, Scirland, and the world it belongs to, greatly resemble that era. Scirling women are very limited in what they are allowed to partake of, just as Victorian women were. I love how Brennan has handled the social and personal conflicts that would arise in such a situation. The situation in Bayembe reflects the expansion of the British Empire, and the politics and conflicts of colonialism are well-wrought.


As with the first book, if you like things anthropological, or things dealing with naturalism, if historical fantasy tickles your palate, if adventurous accounts akin to The Lost City of Z arrest your attention, then look no further! Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents can slake that thirst. Come, walk in a world where dragons dwell, and learn the secrets of the natural world.


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