Warning: this post may contain spoilers for Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents, and other novels in The Memoirs of Lady Trent
There’s something about dragons that stirs the imagination. Whether they’re vicious wyrms, wise, ancient lords, or symbiotic fire lizards, dragons of all shapes and forms seem somehow fascinating (this may have something to do with why so many people go through a “dinosaur phase,” which begs the question if fantasy authors writing about dragons simply never quite grew out of it). This can result in dragons, like dwarves, trolls, elves, and other creatures that frequently populate pages in various forms, that seem flat, one-dimensional, or simply indistinct. How many times can we read about how the dragons almost disappeared, but then someone finds and egg and returns the symbiotic dragonriders? So any time I come across a new and interesting take on dragons, I get excited. When I read A Natural History of Dragons, I was thrilled. Here was a serious treatment of dragons, with an emphasis on science, set in a post-medieval world.
I had other things to read, and stories of my own to write, and actual work that I get paid for to do, so I didn’t immediately pick up the next book in the series, but eventually I did get around to returning to the Memoirs of Lady Trent, with The Tropic of Serpents. Mostly because of how excited I was about the first book, I found the second book not quite as interesting. It had less focus on dragon science, as it were, and more on politics and character drama. I suppose that probably is preferable for most people, but the dragon science in the previous novel was so thorough that I had hoped for more.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I would absolutely and fully recommend The Tropic of Serpents. It may not have been, to my mind, as strong as A Natural History of Dragons, but that is more a reflection of the strength of the first book, than of the weakness of the second. Besides, there’s such a thing as second book syndrome; there are very few series, in any format, that I’ve not observed to suffer from second book syndrome, where the series starts out strong, falters a little on book two, and then comes back strong with book three. And yes, I will definitely be reading book three in this series eventually.
If you’re interested in reading a new, unique take on the dragons that populate so much fantasy, I would highly recommend The Tropic of Serpents. It is worth noting that, although the series seems to have been designed to be read in order, it would not suffer unduly from jumping into it from any point.