Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

So this is the second book of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, the sequel to 'A Natural History of Dragons'.  The third book, 'Voyage of the Basalisk' comes out on March 31st.  And before I write about the book (clearly I liked the first one, as I went on to read the second one) I want to talk about the cover. Because yes, cover art matters. (I'm sorry Baen books, but I can't take you and your terrible covers seriously.  There are some AMAZING artists working in the genre, and the best you can do is cover art that makes me want to burn the book?) And the cover art here is perfect. Todd Lockwood nailed the first cover, and the cover to this one is just as good. So thank you Irene Gallo (the art director at Tor) for taking cover art seriously.
Anyway, onto the book inside the covers.
'The Tropic of Serpents' might stand alone, though you'd miss some fantastic things by jumping straight to book two, so don't do that, start at the beginning.
The plot is pretty straightforward; Lady Trent, three years after her first adventure, is getting ready for her second expedition to become the Anne McCaffery of her world, I mean, the Dragon Lady. There is some politics, and some intrigue, and the plot advances in a great clip.

I love this memoir style of storytelling.  I like the funny quips in the preface from the imaginary Lady Trent in her old age, and I don't ever feel like Brennan is stretching to keep the story going, it flows effortlessly and fast. Wow, does she know how to move the story along!  The pacing is great, and a wonderful way to refresh yourself after reading some giant sprawl of epic fantasy.

With very little effort, Brennan fills in a lot of details on even minor characters, and doesn't waste a chance to make a character come to life.  I love the little asides where Lady Trent reveals that her moviations aren't always the ones that history has ascribed to her.

The first book did a lot of the heavy lifting for worldbuilding, but I give the author a lot of credit for actually making a world with different climates, and cultures.  Are they modeled after similar populations in our world?  Sure.  But this is a world teeming with dragons, and religions that are different from ours, so the cultures themselves are different than ours.
The dragons themselves vary from region to region. And without getting into spoilers, their biology varys just as real subspecies do in our world.

Managed Expectations:
As this is a memoir, the future Lady Trent is setting you up for whats coming, and she does it marvelously. There's nothing that distracts from the thrust of the story, and the few teases from future stories are clearly identified as such. She may briefly mention something, but she does it clearly enough to telegraph that you can anticipate that in a future volume, but not in this one. There was one item that gets mentioned, and it's not made clear if we'll see it again, but it is clearly pointed out as important by Lady Trent, and a return to this region is specifically mentioned, so I assume that those two things are connected.

In wrap up, this was an improvement on the first book in almost every way (and I really liked the first book). I like Lady Trent's passion for the dragons and the way that Brennan moves the story, and reflects politics and policy through Lady Trent's worldview.  I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a fun and fast-paced story without cliff-hangers or massive battles.

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