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“The Tropic of Serpents” by Marie Brennan

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Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons introduced us to Isabella, a woman living in a society that resembles Victorian England and who rises to become the world’s premier expert on dragons. The Tropic of Serpents broadens this setting, taking the reader to new lands inhabited by new cultures of humans and new species of dragons. And as in the first installment, it’s not clear which one is more dangerous.

The characters spend much of this book in a tropical swamp—an uncomfortable and often dangerous environment, but one also bursting with life. Brennan vividly renders this setting with a host of detailed descriptions. She brings to bear not only visual imagery, but auditory, olfactory, and tactile details as well. Her writing style in these passages creates a wonderful sense of immersion for the reader.

The Tropic of Serpents also deepens the relationships between the characters. Isabella and Tom Wilker got off on the wrong foot in the previous book. While they don’t start off actively antagonistic here, there are still underlying conflicts and resentments that take time to work through. We also see Isabella developing a closer friendship with Natalie.

The end of the novel gives a tantalizing hint of where the next book, The Voyage of the Basilisk, might take us. I’m looking forward to the journey!

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