Review: The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

The-Voyage-of-the-Basilisk-Memoir-by-Lady-Trent-3-Marie-BrennanWhat is is about vacation that apparently makes me want to read historical fantasy?

Whatever it is has lead me to blaze through all four volumes of Mary Robinettte Kowal’s Glamourist series while I was in England, Scotland, and Ireland this past summer, and then I devoured Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent while I was in Mexico for 6 days. I like historical fiction, but historical fantasy isn’t my favorite of fantasy’s sub-genres—although I’m enjoying these books so much that it’s starting to edge it’s way up the list.

Via NetGalley I was approved to read and review The Voyage of the Basilisk, which I then used as motivation to read the first two books in the series. These books have been on my To Read list for a while (at least since the first one came out) and I was glad for the extra prod to move them to the top.

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.

I read all of Lady Trent’s memoirs in quick succession, moving relatively quickly through the first two in order to get to the third. So while the books are relatively distinct and contained arcs of their own, the stories are strung together in a single narrative in my mind.

This third installment distinguishes itself with the addition of Isabella’s son Jacob, who brings much of this book’s wonder to the story. Isabella has come into her own as a naturalist, and while she has managed to retain her delight in dragons—after all, why continue to do something you don’t love in the face of such danger and scandal—but her eyes are in some ways less fresh. Jacob plays the part of the complete stranger in a way that even Isabella can’t, allowing the reader to begin to see things newly again.

All the books have their own cast of characters, locals in each place Isabella goes for her research, and while all of the people she has encountered so far make the story more vivid, the characters in this story are my favorite so far. Suhail, a man who’s excitement for his field of study is so like Isabella’s; Aekinitos, whose affection for the young Jacob makes his surly demeanor towards everyone else slightly hilarious; Heali’i, who challenges gender roles in her own society and encourages Isabella to challenge them as well; and, of course, Jacob. I loved this whole book, and all the characters in it.

For some reason I was under the impression that this was a trilogy, rather than an ongoing series, but by the end of book three I fervently hoped this was not the end. Lady Trent writes these memoirs from a position of much chronological distance. And thus I hope there are many more adventures between the end of this one and the point at which she starts writing them. In particular, I find myself curious about who Lord Trent ends up being. I wondered, briefly, if Suhail was the mysterious Lord Trent, if that was the secret of his birth, the secret he won’t speak at the death of his father. But by the end of the book, I decided this was unlikely.

So, though Mrs. Camherst’s research into the dragons of her worlds is utterly fascinating, I think it’s likely to be the mystery of her future husband that drives me to read the next book… and hopefully the next ones after that, too.

The Voyage of the Basilisk is written by Marie Brennan and will be published tomorrow, March 31, 2015 by Tor Books. It is the third book in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series.

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About Sky

I'm a: 20-something, fantasy writer, deep thought thinker, sometime knitter, bookstore browser, amateur cook, journaler, cat owner, cheap wine connoisseur, ancient and medieval history lover, occasional philosopher, avid reader, museum wanderer.
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