Articles, Fiction, Non-Fiction

Upcoming reads and reviews

I’m focusing purely on reading at the moment, and I know it’ll be a week or so until my next review – so in the meantime I thought I’d share a ‘preview’ of what’s coming up, both in my reading and here on the blog.

I am about to finish reading the third book in the Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan – The Voyage of the Basilisk. It’s just a wonderful as the previous two and goes even deeper into the dragon science as well as Lady Trent’s life and personality. As I’ve blogged about the two previous books separately, I plan to wait until I’ve read book four (In the Labyrinth of Drakes) and then blog about that with The Voyage of the Basilisk in one post.


Two other books I will be combining into one post are Gone to Ground by Marie Jalowicz Simon and A Woman in Berlin. As you probably know these are both memoirs of being a woman, alone, in Berlin during the Second World War. They are both excellent books that made a deep impression on me – so much that I read them both a couple of months ago but still haven’t worked out how to write about them. But I am determined to do this in July.


As I mentioned recently, I have organised my TBR into reading lists arranged by topic/type of book. This has helped me to narrow down the list and focus on what I really want to read rather than what I might one day want to read, at some point.

To this end I have purchased two books from my new reading lists, and these will be my next reads: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O’Toole. These are two books that I’ve wanted to read for quite a while, and the news that The Glass Castle is being adapted into a film (starring the excellent Brie Larson) moved that one to the top of the list.



Beyond that, I will be dipping into The Madwoman in the Attic and reading it where I can – it’s so huge that I think I could be overwhelmed by it if I read it cover to cover with no breaks! Once I’ve read the Walls and O’Toole I’ll be choosing my next book from my new reading lists – at the moment I’m leaning towards Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew. I loved her as Captain Janeway in Voyager and am now watching Orange is the New Black, and this reminded me that I have wanted to read her memoir for a while. Or I might choose something from my Mental Health list…

You can see my reading lists here – plenty to choose from!

My post about Gone to Ground and A Woman in Berlin will be up by the end of this week.

[All photos my own]

Fiction, Reviews

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

As you can tell I am steaming ahead with the Lady Trent series! I finished book one, A Natural History of Dragons, and went straight into book two – The Tropic of Serpents. This one is set three years after book two, and Isabella is on another foreign expedition to study dragons.

This time she is accompanied by Tom Wilker (from the first book) and her young friend Natalie (granddaughter of Lord Hilford, her financier, whom we met in the first book, and who proves to be wonderful little feminist). They travel to a country called Eriga which seems to be quite African in climate and peoples. When they first arrive in Point Miriam they encounter a huge number of different peoples and races, something I really enjoyed reading about. It is impressive how many different peoples Brennan creates, giving each of them their own distinct characteristics – whether we observe them briefly or spend most of the story with them.


2014 Titan Books edition

Eriga is currently at war and Isabella’s country, Scirland, is providing military support. So, Isabella and her team are allowed to visit and explore the region for their research, and of course look for dragons. They end up going into ‘the Green Hell’, a jungle which is actually called Mouleen. The people of Mouleen (the Moulish) are tribal and live in amongst the forest. They act as tour guides and hosts for the Scirlish team and we get lots of stories about struggling to cope with the heat and the minor scandal of cutting up dresses to make trousers. Isabella soldiers on and is admirable in her efforts to acclimatise and understand the Moulish people. This made me like her even more, along with the fact that she speaks about the impracticalities of getting your period while travelling. When they first arrive in Eriga they are invited to stay in the palace, and when a maid discovers that Isabella is menstruating she is sent to the ‘agban’ – the place where women must be sequestered while they menstruate; Isabella thinks this is ridiculous but goes along with it so as not to offend. It ends up being useful as she meets the king’s sister and manages to use that connection later. Anyway, I liked this down to earth attitude and the frankness with which all of this is discussed. It is to true to way women talk about periods and the direct effect they have on day-to-day life.

Something else I very much liked was Isabella’s discussion of her role as both a mother and an adventurer, something that is mentioned in Liz Bourke’s review of the book on

“…in Isabella’s case, society’s disapproval of her choice to leave her three-year-old son in the care of relatives in order to pursue her life’s work. Isabella evinces a complicated attitude towards motherhood, and rightly points out the double standard of a society that would have [her] abandon her own work in favour of devoting her life to her child, while it would expect nothing of the kind when it came to a [man in her position]. This is a topic rarely brought into perspective in the fantasy genre, and that makes me doubly glad to see Brennan treat it with nuance here.”

Isabella’s world is a parallel of our Victorian era, and so we can understand these struggles. As Liz Bourke points out it is also brilliant that all this is blended into the fantasy of the story; this is something that really appeals to me about the Lady Trent series. I’m not a devotee of the fantasy genre so I like these relatable aspects and the links to our world and history. The relations between different peoples are also quite familiar, with the white people coming over to explore, bringing their complicated clothing and imposing military fleet. There are lots of little details in all this that are both charming and engaging, and they create a very believable and immersive world.


The helpful map at the start of the book

I must say that the political and social aspects of the story do sometimes overtake the purpose of their visit to Eriga and Mouleen – research into dragons. Isabella does get to study them and learn a few things, but for me there could have been more dragons in The Tropic of Serpents. I quite like the scientific side of the Lady Trent stories, and would happily have learned more about the anatomy and breeding habits of the swamp-wyrms they come across. And while the drawings in this volume are just as brilliant as those in A Natural History of Dragons, these did not have any captions and I think this was lacking. But otherwise, I loved every minute of this book. I have already ordered the next in the series, The Voyage of the Basilisk, and I’m sure that will be just as brilliant.


Published in 2014 by Titan Books. Available from Wordery and Foyles.

Fiction, Reviews

Exploring genres with A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

I generally read ‘literary’ or historical fiction, and I’ve wanted to reach out into more genre fiction for a while. While browsing in Waterstones a few weeks ago I wandered with my boyfriend up to the sci fi/fantasy section, and came across the Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan.  Lady Trent is a ‘dragon naturalist’ and the series is made up of several volumes of her memoirs, starting with A Natural History of Dragons. The series is set in an alternate Victorian universe where, in the first novel at least, a young Lady Trent battles against gender norms and social stereotypes. The book is essentially a Victorian adventure, with a bit of romance thrown in, plus some dragons – which it turns out works for me.


2014 Titan Books edition

Lady Trent, still just Isabella in the first novel, wants to learn about dragons but this isn’t considered ‘suitable’ for young ladies; she tries to suppress her passion but reads about dragons in secret and is eventually encouraged by her father. She fulfils her duty of finding a husband, Jacob Camherst, who luckily shares her passion. The bulk of the story follows them on an expedition to Vystrana with some colleagues to study dragons. They get embroiled in a mystery, local politics, smuggling, and local religion, and while some of the story is a little over the top, it is an enjoyable romp with some great characters. Isabella is an entertaining narrator, though her wisdom-through-hindsight sometimes overshadows the excitement of the events in the story. However I still loved it and got wrapped up in the study of dragons and the mystery of their out-of-character attacks on humans. Isabella has a genuine passion for their work, and I admired her defiance of conventions and determination to be useful and get involved in the adventure. The story is a lot of fun and is very engaging – I read quickly, desperate to know what would happen next. Happily I wasn’t able to guess the ending, which is always a good thing,

In fact I enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons so much that today I went to Waterstones and bought the next book in the series, The Tropic of Serpents. Hopefully it will be just as good! I’m glad I branched out with this book, and think I may read more fantasy like this in the future. This is partly because I feel like reading something a bit different, and also because the two books I read before this were both about life during World War Two, both of which were brilliant but not exactly cheery. I’ve enjoyed the escapism of Lady Trent and look forward to more Victorian dragon romps.


Published in 2014 by Titan Books.

Available from Wordery and Foyles.