Isabella is once again heading out on an expedition, this time travelling with her son, Jacob, his governess, Abby, and Tom Wilker, her co-worker from previous voyages. This instalment of her memoirs follows the group’s trip on the Basilisk as they sail around the world in search of more dragons to study. Fire serpents, sea serpents, feathered serpents and plain old lizards feature on the naturalist’s list of species to catalogue, but the perils of the voyage and the strained political situation make this task nigh on impossible. Soon it is more than just her reputation at stake…
‘Voyage Of The Basilisk’ is the third book in Marie Brennan’s series of ‘Memoirs Of Lady Trent’. Once again, we are taken on a fantastical journey round myriad places, this time travelling extensively by ship to remote islands and coastal towns. Isabella is now around the age of 30, so I think we have a few more adventures on which to accompany her before this series is finished!
Unfortunately, the love I had for this series after the first book, ‘A Natural History Of Dragons’, has somewhat waned throughout the second and third books and I find myself increasingly disappointed.
In ‘Voyage Of The Basilisk’, I was frustrated by the pace of the story. Sections that sounded like they were about to develop into exciting moments of action fizzled out rather suddenly. Areas where not a lot seemed to be happening suddenly exploded into action, which was then all over before you’d had time to build up any sense of tension or emotional involvement. It was just too matter of fact. Perhaps this is an accurate reflection of the memoir style, with selective memories giving more attention to detail in some places than others and with a sense of detachment resulting from the memoirs being written many years after the events took place. Even if this is deliberate, it just didn’t work for me and the abruptness of the ending was something I found particularly infuriating.
Isabella Camherst is a pretty good character and I think she’s developed fairly well throughout the three books, but the other characters don’t get a great deal of attention. I thought the enigmatic Suhail, who joined Isabella for part of her journey, might be an interesting one as he clearly has secrets we haven’t yet discovered, but we never got past a very superficial layer. Poor Tom Wilker was all but abandoned in this book, despite being present throughout. He occasionally appeared to express concern but there wasn’t any depth there. Again, this might be because the memoirs are supposed to be written by Isabella and, naturally, she knows far less about the others than herself but still, as a reader, I was annoyed by it.
The other thing that bothered me was the sheer number of exotic names involved. I’ve got a great memory for names but with dozens of names for places, people, historical characters, days, months, customs and so on, I just couldn’t keep up. A glossary would really help this book so that when the reader encounters yet another name they can’t quite place, there’s something written down to help them out.
I’d like to see more dragons and to feel the awe at their size, scale and power. I’d like to get to know the characters better. I’d like to have a sense of tension in the moments that must have been frightening instead of a quick mention of the facts. Sadly, this isn’t what I got out of this book and, although I cling to the faint hope that these things will improve in the next books (I’ve no idea how many there are planned in this series but I don’t feel like we’re near the end yet), my optimism is dwindling. I feel like I should be in the prime target audience for these books as I love dragons and have a fascination with the biology of it all, I’m rather fond of Victorian style literature and I enjoy a great adventure but, for me, it’s just missing the mark.
(pub: Titan Books, 2015. 352 page small enlarged paperback Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78329-506-7)
check out website: www.titanbooks.com