BooksOfTheMoon

Turning Darkness Into Light

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 4 stars

I’m always a little wary of sequels to books that don’t necessarily seem to need them, but I loved this. Audrey Camhurst is Isabella’s granddaughter and is struggling to overcome her famous family name and make her own mark on the world of philology, so she jumps at the chance to translate some recently uncovered ancient Draconean texts. Of course, it’s not as straightforward as that, and soon she, and her fellow scholar Kudshayn, are drawn into a conspiracy that could incite war.

We’ve jumped forward in time by a couple of generations, (maybe now the equivalent of our inter-war period?) and the technology and social mores have moved accordingly. There are now motor cars and telephones, and people willing to address each other by their first names!

The book is written in an epistolary format, with diary entries, newspaper articles and letters from a variety of different people, although Audrey is our main PoV, with the Draconean Kudshayn the secondary. What they find as they translate the tablets is the founding myth of the ancient Draconean people, and seeing how this shapes the thinking of these two individuals, especially the priest-scholar Kudshayn is fascinating, given that what he learns impacts on his faith.

The characters are all great. I had a soft spot for Cora, Audrey’s assistant, as being someone we would recognise as being on the spectrum. Even Audrey’s one-time beau, Aaron Mornett has depth, and both Audrey and Kudshayn are painted in some depth. Audrey is driven by her famous family. Unlike her sister, she doesn’t want to be involved with Society, she wants to be an academic, in a field which her family have basically created out of whole cloth. She especially worships her grandmother, although she doesn’t always take the right moral from her adventures. What Would Grandmama Do is often on her lips.

The keystone of the plot really lies along the lines of attempts to resist the changing of the world, and the ways in which “moderate” bigots can be as dangerous, if not moreso, than the sort who shout their opinions to the world. Very much a lesson for our time. But also a reminder that there will always be people willing to stand up to the bigots and show how we can, together, turn darkness into light.

Book details

ISBN: 9781789092516
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2019

Within the Sanctuary of Wings (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #5)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 5 stars

And so the memoirs of Lady Trent finally reach their conclusion, taking in scaling her world’s version of the Himalayas, massive revelations about the ancient Draconean civilisation and lots more tales of derring-do. From the first chapter, I was drawn in, having forgotten just how much I adore Lady Trent’s narrative voice, as a possibly unknown species of dragon draws her to a terribly remote mountain range half way around the world. With her go her indefatigable comrade in arms, Tom Wilker, and her husband Suhail. All great characters, but neither they, nor the mountaineers who come with them, get as much to do this book as companions have in previous volumes, which is a shame, because I really like Suhail and especially Tom. But these are, of course, the memoirs of Lady Trent, and it’s her adventures that drive the book forward.

The big revelation half way through this book changes the entire series and I’m now itching to go back and re-read the others in light of this (of course, I’ll have to get them back from whoever I’ve been foisting them upon this week; I’ve become an enthusiastic pusher of dragon memoirs!). The volume is as charming and bewitching as the others. Any fan will enjoy this (although if you’re not [yet] a fan, this is most definitely not the place to start) and Isabella’s drive is as strong here as it was when she was just a novice, trying to establish herself as an independent scientist outwith the shadow of her male colleagues and relatives.

Although the politics drive the story to some degree, as they have done in all the books, it’s Isabella’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge that drives the story forward. I can’t wait until my niece is old enough to read these, because if there’s a better (fictional, at least) role model than Isabella, Lady Trent, for any young woman, especially one with an interesting in the natural world, I can’t think of them.

Book details

ISBN: 9781783297788
Publisher: TITAN PUBLISHING GROUP
Year of publication: 2017

Midnight Never Come (Onyx Court, #1)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 3 stars

As Elizabeth I takes the throne of England, so another monarch ascends the throne in a different court, below London. Thirty years later, Michael Deven, a young gentleman joins Elizabeth’s personal bodyguard also joins Francis Walsingham’s rank of spies and gets enmeshed in a web of intrigue that draws him to the faerie Onyx Court and it’s terrible Queen Invidiana. He and Lady Lune of that court must penetrate the web of deceit, intrigue and danger to the pact that threatens both courts and both Englands.

It took me a long time to warm to this book. For the first few chapters in particular, I had to stop on a fairly regular basis to look up names and references (thank you Wikipedia!) and try and distinguish historical personages from invented ones. That didn’t help my attention, which wavered until nearly half way through the book, when it suddenly started to click, as the various strands of the story started to come together. Deven is a likeable enough character, although he doesn’t really have a huge amount of personality. Much more interesting is the faerie Lady Lune who gets more development and an intriguing mystery to her background.

The story was well weaved into the historical narrative, with the fantastic emerging at major points in Elizabeth’s rule, as the Onyx Court interferes in Elizabethan politics and diplomacy while also mirroring it below the ground.

I was interested in this following recommendation from a friend and because I adore the Lady Trent books by the same author. However, while I enjoyed it, I’m not that desperate to pick up the next book in the series (unlike the Lady Trent books!). Thankfully, for readers in my situation, the story is entirely self-contained. You might want to find out what happens next to the Onyx Court, but even if you don’t, you’ll certainly not feel short-changed at the end of this one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785650734
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2008

In the Labyrinth of Drakes (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #4)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 4 stars

The penultimate volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs sees Isabella (now Dame Isabella) and Tom in the (grudging) employ of the military to try and breed dragons to create a sustainable supply of dragon bone to build airships with, following the events of the last book. As usual, politics interferes with Isabella’s perfectly natural desire to just get on and do Science. But this time, the danger is more personal than before but the potential rewards are so much greater.

I loved this book as much as the rest of them. I love the character and determination of Isabella and the strong bonds of friendship between her and Tom Wilker, and how far they’ve come since the first book. It was also nice to see Suhail (from the last book) back for this one and the complex relationship between him and Isabella deepened and changed in interesting ways.

This book, moreso than others in the series, really put Isabella’s frustration at the limitations imposed on her for her sex to the fore. Between the patronisation from the military officers she has to deal with and the deeply patriarchal faux-Arabian culture that they’re visiting, it seems constant. This is wearing for the reader, but this makes me, as a male reader, very aware that women even now probably face something very much like this (albeit maybe not so blatant) all the time, which just makes me angry and want to shout at the world to stop it. So if it makes one previously oblivious man empathise then the whole series is worth it!

But the books are much more than just feminist awareness-raising. As I said before, Isabella is a wonderful character, as is Tom. The setting is great, although having different names for the days and months makes it harder to get a mental image of the seasons and so forth (just saying it’s April is a shorthand that conjures up images of the time of year and the season in a very minimal way; we don’t have this shortcut for the months as named here).

This volume also starts to gather together a lot of threads that have been building from the start. The Draconeans, the preservation of dragon bone, the rumbling of war across continents have all been simmering in the background. I get the impression that the final book is going to bring them all together, and I look forward to seeing where Isabella’s journey takes her in the end.

Book details

ISBN: 9781783297764
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2016

From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #3.5)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 4 stars

This is a nice little short story set in Brennan’s Lady Trent universe. It’s set sometime after The Voyage of the Basilisk and takes the form of a number of letters for publication by Isabella Camherst and others, where she takes shoddy research (and researchers) to task.

This is a fun little story with a delicious payoff that might help entertain you while waiting for the next book. Although it makes mention of events in other books, they’re minimal and you can still get a lot out of the story even without having read the novels. It also gives the virgin reader a short and clear taste of Isabella’s character which I hope will entice them to the series as a whole.

Book details

Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2016

Voyage of the Basilisk (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #3)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 5 stars

The third volume of Lady Trent’s memoir sees her documenting her time on the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk on an expedition searching for sea serpents. She finds these in abundance, and much more besides.

The third of Brennan’s Lady Trent books is the most assured yet. It’s lovely to see the character of Isabella Camhurst develop over the books and something that I think is quite clever in the writing is that the younger Isabella is, as she ages, starting to sound more like the elder Lady Trent. She’s maturing, gaining experience and wisdom and it’s lovely to see how Brennan conveys that in the writing.

I think this is also the first in the series that really features dragons to any great degree in the forefront. That’s not a complaint about previous volumes (it’s been great fun just following Isabella’s life as she struggles to be recognised as a serious scholar while having the terrible handicap of being a woman) but it makes this one even more fun. The ongoing background plot concerning the now-dead Draconian civilisation also picks up a little in this volume and I look forward to see where that goes in future.

I was slightly concerned at the start when Isabella brings her young son with her on the voyage. I feared it might descend into one of many annoying child-related tropes, but in the event, I ended up really liking Jake and hoping that we see more of him in future, not to mention the mysterious Suhail. Isabella’s constant companion on these trips, Tom Wilker, is with her through this volume as well, and I admired his dry tone and his humour as he has come to accept that he can’t stop Isabella doing, er, un-ladylike things but he’s always there to help, and often as enthusiastic as she is.

So all in all, I highly recommend this book to fans of the series to date. If you’re new to Lady Trent, you’ll certainly be able to read and enjoy this book without having read any of the others, but you’ll appreciate it more if you have. As for me, I’ve already pre-ordered the next volume.

Book details

ISBN: 9781783295067
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2015

The Tropic of Serpents (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #2)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 4 stars

I enjoyed the second of Lady Trent’s memoirs as much as the first. This time, a few years after her first voyage, she is off to what seems to be her world’s Africa to study the dragons of that part of the world. Coming with her is her fellow naturalist Tom Wilker and her benefactor’s granddaughter, Natalie. As before, Isabella and her companions can’t help get caught up in local politics, when all they want to do is to study dragons.

I like that the not-quite-steampunk aesthetic doesn’t blind the book from tackling (to some degree, at least) the issues of colonisation of Africa by Britain (by analogue, at least, as Isabella’s Scirland isn’t exactly Britain and Beyembe isn’t Africa). But the book doesn’t shy away from the repercussions of Scirland’s political meddling in the affairs of the countries of Beyembe, despite being told by Lady Trent, a Scirland national.

I continue to enjoy the tone of voice of the books, both the voice of the Isabella of the time, and the older voice of the Lady Trent who is writing the memoir, and I’m impressed by Brennan’s ability to write two voices for the same character at different periods in her life. I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Isabella and Wilker develop and mature to a point where they’re comfortable with each other, and I have to say that I enjoyed the events that eventually cleared the air.

The last line has left me wanting to dive straight into The Voyage of the Basilisk, but I also don’t want to devour it, as the fourth book isn’t out until next year, and the fifth (and, I understand, the last) isn’t yet written. If I can pace myself, I should hopefully be able to read the last few in fairly quick succession (if!).

Book details

ISBN: 9781783292417
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2014

A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 4 stars

This is a memoir of the foremost dragon expert in the world, Isabella Camherst, her first expedition to study the creatures and of the very human problems that the expedition encountered. I really enjoyed this book a lot. Although I’ve shelved it as ‘fantasy’, the only fantastic elements are that it’s not set in our world, and that there are dragons. And even the dragons are very naturalistic, with organs that generate their unique breath. Isabella even helps to dissect and record the details of them more than once.

The worldbuilding is rather marvellous as well. It’s set in what we would describe as an early Victorian period, and it seems that the country that Isabella comes from is probably analogous to Britain during that period. There are details thrown in (such as hints that iron ore isn’t common in this country, leading to militaristic endeavours abroad) in a casual way that that provides information without breaking up the flow of the story.

I enjoyed Isabella’s voice in this memoir as well. Both the youthful nineteen year old new bride who manipulates her husband into taking her on the expedition and the wiser, at times querulous voice of the elderly Lady Trent (as she becomes at some point) adding asides and her own commentary.

Some other reviews have had problems with the narrator’s voice and the trouble she had with just one servant in this remote village, where the expedition was taking place. This doesn’t bother me one bit, because even for an adventurous young lady, a noblewoman of the period would have felt like that, and Isabella tries her best to overcome that.

One word of warning, dragons aren’t really make a huge presence in the story and when they are, it’s from a naturalistic, scientific point of view. I love the idea of treating dragons in that way and having a pseudo-Victorian naturalist try to analyse them, but if you’re after lots of flaming and adventure then maybe this isn’t for you.

Book details

ISBN: 9781783292394
Publisher: Titan Books (Titan Entertainment Group)
Year of publication: 2013

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