Updated on May 27, 2017
1. ‘In the Labyrinth of Drakes’ by Marie Brennan
Brennan continues her Victorian-esque, dragon-laden, feminist fantasy series with In the Labyrinth of Drakes. This time our heroine, Isabella, travels to Akhia (this world’s version of Africa) to study desert drakes, the closest living thing to the classic winged, fire-breathing dragon we all know and love. (Incidentally, this is also the book in which Isabella acquires the name ‘Lady Trent’.)
(This is the fourth book in Brennan’s Lady Trent series. I have also reviewed all the others: A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, Voyage of the Basilisk and Within the Sanctuary of Wings.)
This time Isabella’s quest has the approval of her home country’s military and scientific communities. She and Tom Wilker have been hired to study dragon procreation and work out a way to breed desert drakes for military purposes. Although Isabella doesn’t love the idea of dragons being used for war, she does recognise the scientific benefits of the trip and is happy to set off for Akhia indefinitely. However, during her time there she falls victim to several unfortunate events, not all of which are accidents…
I enjoyed this book simply because it returned to me a world I already adore and characters I love. However, something all of the other books have had is a single badass moment that has made me cheer at the page – but Drakes didn’t, really. I did get some heartpounding excitement from the discovery at the end, but it wasn’t quite as heroic-bordering-on-silly as I have come to expect from Isabella.
Drakes also deals quite a lot with the politics of Akhia, and Isabella’s relationship with Suhail (oh yes, he’s back, and now we know exactly who he is!). I like the romance between Isabella and Suhail – all very unspoken and mainly communicated through longing looks and Isabella’s stubbornness – but after a while I wanted less of that, and more dragons. The same applies to the politics: although it does a very good job of advancing the overall narrative of the series (especially regarding the search for an alternative building material to dragon bone), it did become a little too much the focus of the book, when we all know we’re here, primarily, for the dragons.
I really liked the introduction of Isabella’s brother, Andrew. We’ve seen him before, but this is the first time he’s been a major character and he was a good addition for his sense of humour and his ability to see right through Isabella (and sometimes know her better than she knows herself). I also liked all the zoological details about desert drakes’ hunting techniques, mating flights and egg laying. Isabella’s scientific experiments involving tiny hummingbird-like dragons called ‘honeyseekers’ were also really cool, and really added to the world-building around the different species of dragons.
All in all, if you’ve enjoyed the rest of Lady Trent’s adventures, reading Drakes will probably feel like wrapping yourself up in a familiar blanket, but, although the ending will probably get your heart racing, it isn’t the most captivating book in the series.
“People will forgive a slip, a weakness, a minor personal folly – when it comes from a man.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Read my review of the final book in the series: Within the Sanctuary of Wings.
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.