It’s been a while since I first read the first Lady Trent book, A Natural History of Dragons, a book I liked but never quite fell in love with. I decided to pick up the next one as part of my reading goal to get caught up on series I’ve started. I’m so glad I did because I really liked The Tropic of Serpents.
Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.
The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.
I’ll be completely honest here, the first book felt dry to me and so that’s why it took me such a long time (years) to pick up the next in the series. I never fully connected with the character of Isabella–until now. In this second installment of the series we really see Isabella start to shine. Not only that but she’s grown up a lot from the last book, and no wonder with the way that one had concluded. I love that it’s set a few years later so that we see the changes in her without having to spend all that time on it. We see how much she’s grown by how she interacts with people and how she handles certain situations. Of course she is still very daring and likes to take risks in pursuit of scientific discovery, but I don’t think she’d be Isabella without that aspect of herself. I love that we see her relationship with Thomas Wilker start to change here, from one of distrust to a working partnership and what eventually blossoms into mutual respect and friendship. I quite enjoyed her friend Natalie as well as her relationships with all of the other characters she comes across in her travels.
The writing style is interesting because even though it’s first person, the way in which the story is presented, as a memoir that is both a travelogue and a bit of a scientific journal at times, can put you at a certain distance from the protagonist. I feel like where the first book struggled to strike a balance with this storytelling method, the second book succeeded quite well. It definitely lends itself to a serial adventure story such as Lady Trent’s travels around the world and I can’t help but start to be reminded a bit of Indiana Jones at times.
We also get to see Isabella navigating the world of international politics. The world here is all fantasy, but it’s an analogue of our own and you can see the historical influences embedded into the world-building. Here we have Isabella exploring and area which feels very much like the Congo and we also get the outside countries moving in to take control, colonize, and utilize resources. All of that as well as fighting among different peoples native to the lands. There are several players in the political arena in this one, and different cultures Isabella must learn to navigate in order to get through her trip safely and without offense. I like that she takes the time to get to know about others and the way they live. Even if she sometimes stumbles she does put in the effort and in the end it helps her have a better understanding of how to solve problems between different sets of people.
Overall, I really liked The Tropic of Serpents. Thought it was a huge improvement over the first book. More adventures, more of the world explored, more fun, and better characterizations. 4/5 stars.