Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan

cover of Voyage of the BasiliskVoyage of the Basilisk is the third “Memoir of Lady Trent”.  The fictional Lady Trent is a naturalist who travels the world to study dragons.  The books are notable not only for the lovely writing but for an incredibly compelling main character with believable strengths and weaknesses, and great attention to the process of science.  It’s also notable for its gorgeous illustrations, by Todd Lockwood.  My ARC didn’t have the illustrations (!) but here are some illustrations from the first book in the series, A Natural History of Dragons:

dragons, by Todd LockwoodI find that with each Lady Trent book I enjoy the series more, partly because I find her internal struggles more interesting as she ages.  In the first book, she struggles with the idea of marriage, she struggles to win a place in the scientific community, and she and her party struggle to survive in an Eastern European style setting (the books take place in an alternate world that is clearly influenced by the Victorian Era, but which does not adhere to it).  The second book, Tropic of Serpents, has Lady Trent studying dragons in, you guessed it, the Tropics.  I admired this book because of how a variety of non-Caucasian people are involved in the story, and how Lady Trent interacts with them in a manner both plausible and gratifying.  she meets other cultures with confusion but without condenscieion.  It was an especially powerful book because underlying the dragon stuff were themes of grief, class, social roles, and motherhood.  Of the three books, I found Tropic be most emotionally compelling.

Which brings us to Voyage of the Basilisk.  Maybe it’s just that I love a good sea story, but I thought this book was the most fun so far.  I could not get enough of the boat and the diving bell and the sea serpents.  The cover alone made me do a happy dance.  In this installment, Lady Trent embarks on a trip around the world to search for dragons.  She ends up on  a tropical island, where the action slows down a bit (I really liked the boat).  But when I say “slows down”, that’s a bit misleading, because there’s a trip to a volcano, a voyage to the surface of the ocean in a diving bell, a war, and all kinds of other things that I don’t want to spoil.  There’s less internal conflict but lots of exterior conflict.  The visuals and sense of adventure are stunning.

I would have liked more time in this book with Tom and Natalie, who both get less page time in favor of newcomer Suhail, an archeologist who is just as excited about ruins as Lady Trent is about dragons.  I loved getting to see Lady Trent’s son, Jake, growing up, and I got a huge kick out of the captain especially when the captain and Lady Trent teamed up to discipline Jake, who initially saw life on deck as an excuse to run amock.  It’s a wonder he didn’t climb the rigging with a knife between his teeth.

With each Lady Trent book, I’m more enchanted.  I like the science, I like the way the books deal with gender, class, and race, and I love the characters.  I can’t wait for Book 4!  Voyage of the Basilisk comes out tomorrow and it’s worth a buy.


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