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WesternSFA
The Tropic of Serpents
A Memoir by Lady Trent
by Marie Brennan
TOR; $25.99; 331pp
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Ah, the second volume in naturalist Lady Trent’s journals of her intrepid travels across her world hunting elusive dragons to observe and describe their biology and habitat.

This time we go to a very African area called Eriga with Lady Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent before she remarried), who is accompanied by Tom Wilker from the previous novel and a new companion Natalie, granddaughter to Lord Hilford who is, once again, sponsoring Lady Camherst’s travels.

This novel was more political than the last, but still fascinating. Basically we have Brennan’s version of European style nations interested in a continent for its raw wealth and ignoring the native populations as worthy of little note, save if they control access to mineral wealth or in this specific instance, a great river system that, if dammed, will provide an inordinate amount of power.

Lady Camherst must convince the oba (the ruler) of Nsebu to let her go into the Mouleen, a thick rain forest commonly called the Green Hell to research swamp wyrms. Little is known of their lives, mating habits, nesting or territory.

The oba controls the egress into the Green Hell and decides to let Lady Camherst go in (where few Scirlings have gone (Scriland being Lady Camherst’s country of origin---much like England.) He allows her to go because he wants her to bring him back some swamp wyrm eggs. She gets a guide and her and her companions dive into the Green Hell and meet up with the indigenous people, the Moulish who live not only off the land but quite in harmony with its cycles and with what it offers in the way of food and shelter. They sound very much like the tribal peoples found deep in Amazonian jungles. They are not particularly violent or property-oriented and of course are quite curious about Lady Camherst and her companions. Not a lot is known about the Moulish as most intrepid travelers who have gone into the Green Hell do not return. This is a much more perilous and primitive situation than her hunt for the Vystrani rock wyrm in the previous novel. But just as fascinating.

Both sides learn a great deal in the seven months Lady Camherst does her research. Before entering the rain forest, she does see other dragons, a glimpse of a sea snake on her way to Nsebu, savannah snakes and some arboreal ones on her overland travel to the Green Hell, but the ones she wants most to learn of are the swamp wyrms.

Once earning the trust of their hosts, she finds out a great deal about them…after first passing a trial which reveals she is ”pure” enough to learn some of the Moulish peoples close-held rituals and secrets concerning the swamp wyrms.

We learn more about Lady Camherst and her strengths and weaknesses. She’s a fascinating character very much in the mold of lady Victorian adventurers and she is very no-nonsense (as she would have to be.) Her curiosity and common sense and love of adventure make her a very endearing creation.

 This is a fascinating memoir, just as was the previous novel. So if you enjoyed Brennan’s “A Natural History of Dragons,” you’ll love this. ~~ Sue Martin

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