Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan

Today I'm looking at the third book in the Lady Trent Memoirs, The Voyage of the Basilisk, in which Isabella Camhurst undertakes an expedition around the world to study a variety of dragon species, including sea serpents, feathered serpents, and fire lizards. Isabella's goal is to learn more about dragon species in general and try to create a definitive taxonomy of dragon species, which the series has been heavily implying she does by the end of the (as of yet unwritten) fifth and final book. In this case Isabella's mission is very much like Charles Darwin's own expedition around the world on the H.M.S. Beagle which provided him with a variety of data to help him write On the Origin of Species.

Because this book does cover a two-year expedition around the globe it feels a lot more rushed than the earlier books, which is sort of odd considering A Natural History of Dragons covers all of Isabella's early life up to about the age of twenty. But in both of the previous books Isabella was studying dragons in more concentrated locales, and considerably fewer species of dragons as well. It definitely felt like Isabella and her compatriots were getting a ton of data on the subjects they were researching. Because she's studying far more species of dragon over greater areas we don't get quite as much detail about the different species of dragons as we might think. And when the main political non-dragon research plot of the book gets resolved, the rest of the expedition which presumably contained lots of tedious dragon research and little else because it's only briefly mentioned.

I am also a little concerned that the book is raising questions which I'm not entirely sure I can answer with the skillset that I have, and considering there's only two books left in the series I'm wondering of Brennan is leaving herself sufficient time to adequately answer the questions as well. The big ones that get brought up in this book, which have been kind of hiding in previous books, are the Draconian civilization and questions about how dragons evolved. Isabella's biggest and most pressing question is the taxonomy of dragons, which is currently limited to one resource and she is uncertain if it is accurate. And like most good science, the more research Isabella does, she ends up with more questions than answers. However, as a reader I am extremely curious about what the answers are.

The Draconian civilization is also taking on greater and greater proportions. As I said in my review of Tropic of Serpents, Isabella finds what I was subsequently proven correct in assuming was the Rosetta Stone for the Draconian civilization. So hopefully we'll find out what some of these mysterious inscriptions are throughout the world. But we're also presented with the fact the Draconians had settlements truly across the globe as Isabella travels not only to her world's equivalent of China, but also to their equivalent of the Pacific islands, which also have Draconian ruins. The audio book that I listened to contained a brief interview with Brennan at the end where she hinted that the Draconians are going to be super-important, but I'm worried that she's simply not giving herself enough space to give her plots the space they deserve.

Other than my concerns, I did enjoy this book and thought it was interesting. Brennan's universe manages to be very realistic and I appreciate that Isabella approaches dragon taxonomy with all due scientific rigor. I am curious how everything turns out in the last two books so that means she's doing something right.

- Kalpar

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