Creating and Breaking a Familiar Story


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I was a bit confused by the latest “Memoir of Lady Trent.” I was expecting a big political upheaval to kick in. I thought there would be a battle, a thrilling chase, a geopolitical firestorm.

I thought this because that was how the last two “Memoirs” went. Go somewhere, study dragons, stumble into a war, play a public and pivotal role in that war, be banned from coming back, go home. A similar plot played in the first novel.

So, as I neared the end of “In the Labyrinth of Drakes,” I was expecting something big to happen. Plots to pay off, a villain to be unmasked. I even thought I knew which character would turn up with an army of bad guys. But nothing happened.

I’m still a little torn on how I feel about this. On the one hand, I felt like the previous two books promised me something, and that promise was broken in this book. I feel a bit of a letdown. On the other hand, Brennan was very clever in designing the plot. The political upheaval is replaced by scholarly upheaval, the shuttered personal becomes public, and all around the book feels fresh.


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Perhaps any experiment with form must accept the risk of breaking promises  made. Some people will probably always feel upset about this. But everything familiar began as unfamiliar, and the greatest joy comes in a promise fulfilled in the most unexpected of ways.


The Memoirs of Lady Trent, Scandalous Victorians, and Fantastic Worlds







I listened to more than thirty hours of “The Memoirs of Lady Trent,” and damn if I didn’t love every minute. Firstly, of course, Kate Reading is an astounding reader. Secondly, Isabella Camhurst is a fantastic character.

Alternate, fantastical histories of the 18th and 19th century have come into fashion recently (see “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and I couldn’t be happier. I’m a history nerd and a fantasy nerd, so the two come together and I get to read the results.

Throughout history, there have been women who fought the sexism of their times to become Great. These women became queens, pirates, popes, scholars. Sometimes they pretended to be men, sometimes they forced the world to accept them as women.

Starting out listening to the Lady Trent books, I assumed that they would take place in a version of England with dragons. The main character is determined to become a dragon naturalist, in spite of society.

Isabella Camhurst is from England, but it’s not called England. It’s called Skirland, and while the majority of people are indeed white and act in a very English way…they’re also Jewish. There is no Christianity in this world: just Judaism and Islam. There is no England, just a place like England. And Isabella travels across the world, to places “like” Russia, West Africa, China, Indonesia, and many more.

This is awesome. Brennan is able to put together the best of both worlds; she can have her dragons and draw on myths and legends of dragons, and also pull in as much as she wants from world history while also making up whatever societies and characters she desires. The result is a mish-mash world that breathes and lives through the eyes of Isabella Camhurst. Now go read/listen.



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