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“The Voyage of the Basilisk” by Marie Brennan

The third volume in Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series takes its heroine on an ocean voyage around the world to study dragons. In the service of her ambitious project to assemble a definitive taxonomy of dragons, Isabella Camherst endures a devastating storm, makes a momentous archaeological discovery, and finds herself in the middle of an incipient war.

As in the previous installments, Brennan constructs interesting, detailed cultures to inhabit her world. Like the Vystrani and Bayembe, the Keongans have a fully realized society, with its own politics, traditions, and spiritual customs. Not only is this distinct from the culture Isabella’s used to, it’s different from those of the other societies introduced in this and previous books. Brennan’s writing gives the impression of a world that, like our own, is vast and filled with a wide array of people who have different perspectives on their surroundings.

In her travels, Isabella is aided by a number of interesting characters. In particular, I hope to see the gruff but adventurous sea-captain Aekinitos and the archaeologist Suhail in future books. (I have particular hopes for Suhail, since he’s established to be Akhian, and the next book is set in Akhia.) I also liked Heali’i, who becomes Isabella’s guide to Keongan culture. Although I was eager to see what Isabella’s next destination would be, I was also sad to see her leave the Keongans behind, and a large part of that was because of Heali’i’s character.

Finally, of course, there are the dragons. Most of the dragons that appear in this book are sea serpents, and the question of whether they even count as “true” dragons is discussed. This book also continues the plot thread of the ancient Draconeans and their relationship to dragons. The discoveries Isabella makes here seem to be laying the groundwork for more revelations in the last two books of the series, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they lead.

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