Marie Brennan

Books: Fantasy

Doppelganger (2006)

Lady Trent: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2013), The Tropic of Serpents (2014), Voyage of the Basilisk (2015), From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (2016), In the Labyrinth of Drakes: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2016), Within the Sanctuary of Wings (2017), Turning Darkness Into Light (2019)


Running with the Pack (2010)

Doppelganger (2006)

DoppelgangerDoppelganger. Doppelganger. Doppelganger!

Okay, now you know why I picked up the book. What a fun word: doppelganger! Luckily, I looked at the back cover first, and read the blurb and found the story interesting. Because if I'd seen the front cover first I might have put the book down without a second thought. What an awful cover--it's a sword & sorcery book. That means they don't have skin-tight leather and zippers. It's not that kind of fantasy.

But as I said, I read the back cover first, and was intrigued. When a witch is born, her mother creates a doppelganger, and then destroys that twin so that child may become a full witch. (Nice society, 'eh?) The book starts out following two characters: Mirage, the doppelganger, and a Hunter; and Miryo, the witch who is sent out to destroy her doppelganger, armed only with the knowledge that to become a true witch, her twin must be destroyed.

With that bit from the back cover in mind, I was really set not to like Miryo. I mean, anyone who sets out to kill their twin, can't really be a good person at heart, can they? And thus I was really cheering Mirage, who had no idea what was coming for her--even if she was the far more prepared of the two.

This is a very good debut novel. The story was fast-paced, and the writing was very good. It is also a stand alone story--everything told and resolved in a single book--which makes it all the better. Which is not to say that the story didn't have its weaknesses. Both Mirage and Miryo were able to accept very difficult ideas and circumstances very easily. I suppose it could have been because they were doppelgangers, but I just found it a little surprising. However, I also have to admit that I'd rather someone come to terms too quickly, than to wring their hands over a situations for weeks and months, with little or no resolution. So although I found it surprising, I also enjoyed the decisiveness.

I also thought that although Mirage was trying hard to be a rogue, she was simply too nice to really be as hard-assed as she came across from time-to-time. We learn she is not adverse to cheating at cards when we first meet her, yet she seems to lack the qualities that would make her a pure rogue--the delight in trouble for it's own sake. This isn't a bad thing, but I am fond of scoundrels, and was hoping that Mirage would have been a bit more of one than she turned out to be.

And I would have liked a little more about Eclipse. He starts out strong, but kind of falls off the map toward the end of the book. I wanted to know a little bit more about him, why he got alog with Mirage so well (the story he gave sounded hokey) and the males place in what seemd to be a more female dominated society. Not that I found him submissive, but considering that one of the major power centers is not just a matriarcy, but is entierly female, I just think it would make things slightly different.

But really, I'm making these things out ot be far bigger than they were, because I really enjoyed reading this book. In addition to being a fast read, I also found the story to be one that grabbed me from the first page and made the book hard to put down. It was light and fun, and despite the few flaws I found, I thoroughly recommend it. Though I really do wish it had a better cover.

Rating: 7/10

P.S. Doppelganger!

Memoirs of Lady Trent

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2013)

After publishing many scientific papers upon the natural history of dragons, Lady Trent has finally decided to write her memoirs.

This is a fantasy set in a world somewhat like ours, only with dragons, and at a time and place comparable to Regency England.

This has been on my to-read pile for, approximately, forever. As I've noted before, I've become reticent to read a lot of straight up fantasy, mostly because the books tend to be long and full of cliff hangers. But after finishing a lovely urban fantasy, I couldn't settle on what I wanted to read next (as sometimes happens) so I decided to at least start something completely different.

The story goes briefly through her youth and how she developed her fascination for dragons and natural history, but most of the story takes place when Isabella is nineteen and goes on her first expedition. I quite like Isabella.

"On the condition," he continued when I released him enough to breathe, "that you promise me, no mad antics. No putting yourself in the path of a hungry wolf-drake. Nothing that will make me regret saying this today."

"I promise to try and keep myself safe."

"That isn't quite the same thing, you know," he said.

I love this bit because it is very much how a very young woman would think. Lots of teenagers too.

I vowed on the spot to show no behaviour that might possibly be construed as birdbrained, from then until the end of time.

I also love the little bits that remind us how past societies placed limitations upon women, both overertly and in subtle ways.

Crawling in a dress, for those gentlemen who have never had occasion to try it, is an exercise in frustration, all but guaranteed to produce feelings of homicidal annoyance in the crawler.

I love historical, but I have no illusions about the past. It's a nice place to visit but I woudln't want to live there for certain. So it's nice when authors remind us of the more difficult things that go with the past.

I also enjoyed the natural history parts of the story, from the dissections to the considerations of ecology and geography.

I often wonder what it is about dragons that makes them prefer extreme climates— or is it just that we've pushed them back as we've spread out?

It's a fun story, and looks to be a series that will go on for quite awhile, but there were no cliffhangers, so I look forward to the next book (which is on my wish list, waiting for a price drop or a holiday).

Publisher: Tor Books

December 2017 | Rating: 8.5/10

Audio Book (2013) narrated by Kate Reading

Published by Macmillan Audio

October 2021 | Rating: 8/10 

The Tropic of Serpents (2014)

The second novel in the Lady Trent series finds Isabella preparing to go on another scientific journey–this one to Eriga, where they hope to document other types of dragons.

The warnings delivered in my first foreword continue to apply: if you are likely to be deterred by descriptions of violence, disease, foods alien to the Scirling palate, strange religions, public nakedness, or pinheaded diplomatic blunders, then close the covers of this book and proceed to something more congenial.

This is a very fun series.

Being a recluse is not good for one's conversational agility. I was accustomed to thinking over my words, revising them, and writing fair copy before sending the final draft of my letter to its recipient.

But the best part of course is the scientific geekery.

Mrs. Kemble was no resentful housewife; she worked alongside her husband, handling the practical matters of ordering and measuring chemicals, while he spent hours staring at the wall and chewing on the battered tail of his pen, mind lost in theoretical matters.

I also LOVE LOVE LOVE that she addresses the Elephant in the room in every single adventure book with female characters.

I must warn you that this inconvenient fact of our sex is one of the most vexatious aspects of being a lady adventurer. Unless you contrive to suppress your courses through pregnancy— which, of course, imposes its own limitations— or through strenuous exercise and privation, you will have to handle this necessity in many circumstances that are far from ideal. Including some, I fear, where the smell of fresh blood is a positive danger.

I very much enjoyed this book as much as the first. I just wish the library had the ebooks available for me to borrow (they only have audio books) so I don't have to wait for the next holiday when someone gives it to me as a gift.

Publisher: Tor Books

December 2017 | Rating: 8/10 

Audio Book (2014) narrated by Kate Reading

Published by Macmillan Audio

December 2021 | Rating: 8.5/10

Voyage of the Basilisk (2015)

The third installment of the Memoirs of Lady Trent finds Isabella on a ship with her son, his governess, and her friend Tom Wilker touring the world while continuing her research on dragons.

I found my quarters at first shockingly small, then acceptable, then unbearable, and finally as unworthy of comment as the water in which a fish swims.

On this tour she continues to make discoveries (including getting to dissect an arctic sea serpent).

I thought of the six criteria customarily used to distinguish "true dragons" from draconic creatures: quadrupedalism, flight-capable wings, a ruff or fan behind the skull, bones frangible after death, oviparity, and extraordinary breath.

Meets many people, both explorers and natives.

I have never attempted to hide that I have had two husbands in my life.

I have, however, neglected to mention that in between them, I had a wife.

And gets herself in and out of danger.

"You did not tell me there was any such danger!" I said to her— it may have been more of a shout.

She apologized for this lapse, though with an expression that suggested I should have had the brains to realize that the dead ground was not safe.

But most of all there is science and natural history in all their geeky gloriousness.

How did lower forms give rise to higher? Which ones were the lower forms, if the family included everything from sparklings to swamp-wyrms, fire-lizards to wolf-drakes? And if it did not include all those things, then where did the boundary belong?

It's an utterly delightful story, and I remain entranced.

And I want to note that these remain some of the most gorgeous covers I've come across in recent years.

Publisher: Tor Books

December 2017 | Rating: 8.5/10 

Audio Edition (2015) narrated by Kate Reading

Published by Macmillan Audio

February 2022 | Rating: 8.5/10

From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (2016)

This short story is a series of scientific letters between Isabella Camherst and Benjamin Talbot in "The Falchester Weekly Review" about a supposed discovery made by Talbot.

It's a brief story, and silly, since it's all the politeness of scientists accusing each other of malfeasance.

I thank Mr. Talbot for his solicitous attention to the well-being of both cockatrices and my feminine heart, but I had hoped for rather more specific an answer.

It's quite enjoyable for what it is, and although I'm not sure I'd recommend it for those who haven't read the Natural History of Dragons books, it's a fun and I quite liked it.

I'm just frustrated that my library doesn't have the rest of the ebooks to borrow.

Published by

February 2018 | Rating: 7.5/10

In the Labyrinth of Drakes (2016)

In the Labyrinth of DrakesThe 4th book in Lady Trent's memoirs finds her traveling with Will to Akhia to attempt to start a dragon breeding program.

(I suppose I should offer fair warning. Because this volume of my memoirs concerns itself with my research in Akhia, it will of necessity say more than a little about the mating habits of dragons and other creatures. Those whose sensibilities are too delicate to endure such frankness might well be advised to have a more stout-hearted friend read them a carefully expurgated version. Though I fear that edition might be rather short.)

As with the previous book, there is plenty of science and natural history.

It was not so dauntingly many as it might have been. After all, in the progress of any given egg, there is a long stretch of time wherein nothing much happens. I could skim quickly past Lord Tavenor's meticulous daily notations of "no change" or weekly measurements, pausing only for the entries of greater substance.

And finally, she finds love again, in her second marriage.

Andrew let me squirm for a long moment. Then he said, "I should have guessed, when you asked me to carry that love note to him."

My outraged squawk startled lizards back into the rocks. "It was not a love note!"

"From you? ‘A piece of research material' is as good as a lock of your hair, tied up in a scented ribbon." He laughed.

This is such a lovely series.

It doesn't hesitate to look sharply at the struggles of being a woman in the sciences.

"Ah, yes," I said ironically. "I have made myself exceptional. It is a wonderful game, is it not? Because I am exceptional, anything I achieve does not reflect on my sex, for of course I am not like them. Strange, though, how that division seems to vanish when we are speaking instead of my shortcomings. Then I am a woman, like any other."

And general geekitude.

It is inevitable, I suppose, that one cannot unpack a box of books efficiently, at least not when the books belong to someone else; I was immediately diverted by looking through them.


Publisher: Tor Books

July 2018 | Rating: 8.5/10 

Audio Book narrated by Kate Reading

Published by Macmillan Audio

March 2022 | Rating: 9/10

Within the Sanctuary of Wings (2017)

Lady Trent has become a force in her own right–she has made amazing discoveries and published scientific papers, yet she still has not be accepted by the Fellow of the Philosophers' Colloquium.

She has also become political, no matter how unwittingly.

(W)e cannot pretend the education of girls and the forging of international bonds for the well-being of dragons are apolitical acts.

But at her heart what she lives for is science.

In truth, he and I had begun to formulate a theory which did away with the six criteria Sir Richard Edgeworth had used to distinguish "true dragons" from mere "draconic cousins," and put in their place only one: developmental lability.

And in this book she makes an amazing discovery. I won't even hint at it, because I don't want to spoil anything, but it was amazing.

This is a wonderful and delightful series, and I highly recommend it for everyone, but especially for girls and kids who love science.

Publisher: Tor Books

August 2018 | Rating: 9.5/10 

Audio Version (2017)  narrated by Kate Reading

Published by Macmillan Audio

April 2022 | Rating: 9/10

Turning Darkness Into Light (2019)

Turning Darkness Into LightAudrey Camherst, grand-daughter of the famous Lady Trent, is a scholar in her own right.

But it's so hard when I can feel everyone looking at me, waiting to see what I'll do. Not my family, of course; if I decided I wanted to retire to a country cottage and spend my life growing roses— not even award-winning roses; mediocre, aphid-chewed ones— they would hug me and wish me well. It's the rest of the world that expects me to do something spectacular, because Papa did, and Mama, and Grandpapa, and above all Grandmama. When am I going to prove my right to stand with them?

When she is offered the chance to translate some Draconic tablets, she leaps at the opportunity.

Draconean writing is really quite irrational, when you get down to it. But it was the first time anyone had invented writing, anywhere in the world, and we can't really fault them for not doing a very good job on the first try.

But things don't seem quite right, although she can't put her finger on precisely what is wrong.

The story is told in a series of letters, newspaper articles, journal excerpts, and the translations of the tablets.

Like Lady Trent's memoirs, the story is about science and research and hard work, but also luck and friendship and a bit of adventure.

It's fun and lovely and as long as you're okay with epistolary stories (some people aren't) I highly recommend it.

Publisher: Tor Books

June 2020 | Rating: 9/10


Running with the Pack (2010) edited by Ekaterina Sedia

When I saw there was a new werewolf anthology edited by Ekatrerina Sedia with a story by Carrie Vaughn I automatically ordered it. Then of course, once it arrived, it sat around like anthologies tend to do, waiting for the "right" time to read it. But eventually read it I did, and it was excellent, with a few caveats, the biggest being, the anthology should not have ended on the story it did. On the plus side (and this is huge plus in my opinion) these are stories that deal with werewolves without all the hawt supernatural sex. A couple stories acknowledge sex, but the focus of these stories is upon the other aspects of being a werewolf, which I very much enjoyed, because there is a lot to explore in this mythos and this anthology does a very good job of moving beyond the paranormal romance aspect of werewolves.

All in all, this is an excellent anthology, and one I can highly recommend.

Published by Prime

Rating: 8/10