Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Pros: excellent world-building, fun protagonist, quick read

Cons: ending felt rushed

This is the third volume of Isabella, Lady Trent’s memoirs and deals with the 2 year research voyage she took on the RSS Basilik.  With her she brings Tom, who accompanied her on previous journeys, her nine year old son, Jake, and his governess, Abby.

As with the other books in this series, this is a character driven fantasy novel, following the extraordinary adventures of a female dragon researcher from Scirland.  While the previous books focused on one area for her excursions, this one covers several locations where she researches various types of dragons in an effort to create a proper taxonomy for the species.

I love the degree of detail Brennan adds to these book, particularly the background tidbits that don’t strictly need to be there but show the amount of behind the scenes thought that goes into the stories.  For example, it doesn’t really matter to the story that this trip took 2 years or more to plan (besides aging the characters), but it acknowledges that such travel in the past was not only expensive but also difficult to arrange.  I also appreciated the occasional bureaucratic, medical, and cultural problems they encountered.

The world expands greatly as the ship stops at numerous ports, sometimes leaving Isabella’s group behind for a month or more to do research, sometimes carrying on immediately to the next location.  Once again the world-building is excellent.  It’s possible at times to see what real world cultures she’s adapting for her book, but each society is very different from the others and there’s a wide variety of characters and customs that show up.

I’m not generally a fan of character driven fantasy but Isabella is such an interesting person that I race through these volumes.  Part way through this book they encounter another researcher, who helps them out.  Suhail was just as fun and interesting as Isabella, and I have my suspicions about his hidden last name.

While it’s possible to read this volume on its own, there are several allusions to the events of the previous books, and a few spoilerish conversations.

The ending feels a little rushed.  There’s a climactic event, after which events are narrated rather quickly through the denouement.  It works for the structure of a novel but would be somewhat unusual for the memoir this purports to be.

These are lighthearted books that don’t take long to read and are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations by Todd Lockwood.  It’s a series I highly recommend.

Out March 31st.

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