Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: The Tropic of Serpents (Memoirs of Lady Trent #2) by Marie Brennan

ttosmbIf you’re a fan of dragons you’re going to want to get your hands on this book. Thanks to Tor Books I’ve got one hardcover copy of Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent to give away.

From Goodreads:

Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.

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.

About the Author

Marie Brennan habitually pillages her background in anthropology, archaeology, and folklore for fictional purposes. She is the author of the Onyx Court series and the doppelgänger duology of Warrior and Witch, as well as more than thirty short stories. Find her online at her website here or on Twitter.

Giveaway – Special thanks to Tor Books!

One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win a hardcover copy of The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan!  For your chance to win simply leave a comment below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight on Saturday, May 10, 2014.  A winner will be picked at random and announced on Sunday, May 11, 2014.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!

Christine’s Review of A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

aNHoD Cover 300dpiA few months ago I opened up an email from Kim with the subject “Coming Soon: A Natural History Of Dragons by Marie Brennan”, asking if I wanted a copy to review. I replied “HEEEELLLLLLLSSSSS YEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!”, because I am a professional. I love fantasy. I love dragons. So yes, the second I read the synopsis of A Natural History of Dragons, I absolutely wanted to read it.

In a world much like ours during the Victorian era, there is a girl, Isabella, who is fascinated by dragons. Because she is a girl, she is discouraged from pursuing scientific studies, but because she is awesome she doesn’t care and she eventually becomes Lady Trent, a preeminent dragon naturalist. The premise of the novel is you are reading Lady Trent’s memoir of how she progressed from a bookish girl who went against the conventions of her time to become the renowned expert on dragons.

Based on the title of the book and the synopsis I read, I assumed this was going to be a memoir of Lady Trent’s entire life and work with dragons, so I was a bit disappointed at the length of the book (about 330 pages) when it arrived in my mailbox. I was a third of the way through the book before I realized my assumption was wrong, and this was the first book in a series. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, and sometimes that can alter one’s view of a book. That said, I enjoyed this book. It was a fun read and an interesting take on the fantasy/dragon genre. Lady Trent’s voice as she narrates her early years is engaging and I loved the moment’s when she would basically say, “Look, I was young. I was an idiot. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I’m being honest and this is how I was back then.”

The book recounts Isabella’s childhood and her first adventure as a young woman to the foreign land of Vystrana in search of dragons, which is where most of the story happens. There are foreign customs to learn, mysteries to solve, bandits to escape from, possible curses to break, and above all, dragons to search for and study. Isabella’s time in Vystrana very much reminded me of an adventure story along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (don’t tell me I’m the only one who loved that TV series), only told through the perspective of an older and wiser Lady Trent.

I would have rather read a longer “memoir” of Isabella’s entire life, but I enjoyed the first tale of her discoveries and adventures, though I did think the ending was a bit rushed. Though it is fantasy novel, I think readers of historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy the story, as the fictional world and era Isabella lives in are very close to the Victorian and Edwardian era. I can see how some readers of fantasy might wish for more fantasy aspects aside from the dragons, but I thought it was a great blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Also sprinkled throughout the book were some lovely illustrations of dragons and scenes from Isabella’s world, which definitely enhanced the story.

3 out of 5 Stars

A Natural History of Dragon: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Tor Books (2013)
Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN: 9780765331960

Special thanks to Tor Books for my review copy!

The February Roundup!

February proved to be a month for catching up.  When January ended I was two books behind the pace I needed to meet my goal of 120 books for the year.  As of the end of February, I’m completely back on pace! Woo-hoo!! (I read 12 books in February, bringing my total to 19 for the year.)  Two things directly contributed to my ability to get back on pace:  1.) An INTENSE blizzard that wound up dumping 40″ of snow onto my town, making it the hardest hit in the tri-state area. 2.) The weeks I spent sick with a sinus infection and possible case of bronchitis.  Together, these two things equated out to a ton of time spent in the house and reading.

20130210_133339The blizzard was one of the most insane things I’ve ever witnessed.  Todd’s car (a VW Passat) was completely covered in snow, so much so that we couldn’t even see it! It was super difficult to dig out.  Regular plow trucks were no match for the record-breaking amount of snow we had and kept blowing transmissions due to the weight and amount of snow they had to push.  Commercial construction trucks and the National Guard had to come in and help plow streets enough for emergency vehicles to pass through.  Plows couldn’t get to the apartment building that Todd and I live in for almost three days.  Thankfully we didn’t lose power and had enough heat, books, and snacks to keep us occupied.  It’s been almost three weeks since the storm hit and we still have MOUNDS of snow everywhere. We’ll be lucky if it’s melted by April.

On the book front, February was a month filled with releases I was eagerly awaiting.  I was able to read the final book in Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, Sever, as well as Sarah MacLean’s newest addition to her Scoundrel’s series, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.  Add to these Marie Force’s newest Gansett Island book, Waiting For Love, Rachel Van Dyken’s The Wolf’s Pursuit,  Nancy Kelley’s Loving Miss Darcyand Maya Banks’ Rush, and you can tell I did a lot of “new” reading.

Speaking of “new” reading… if you remember, last month I did a joint review of Beth Revis’ final book in the Across the Universe trilogy, Shades of Earth, with Sam.  Well, I found out that Beth was coming to Connecticut (WAHOO) with something called the “Breathless Reads” tour.  Penguin (her publisher) organized the tour for her and several other YA authors to come out to indie bookstores all across the US and speak about their books.  Luckily the bookstore that they came to in CT was R.J. Julia (my favorite)!  Todd and I jumped at the chance to attend and man are we happy we did.  Not only were we able to see Beth (and get our books signed), but we were able to listen to four other YA authors (Fiona Paul, Morgan Rhodes, Elizabeth Richards, and Jessica Spotswood) and get introduced to some new books we’re excited to tell you about.  Todd wrote more about the event here, as it was the first one he’d attended where he knew one of the authors.

Looking forward to March, I have lots of books to read (I’m asking myself why I’m even writing that sentence as it’s the story of my life each month.)  I’m hoping to get caught up on reviews over the next two weeks.  I have some GREAT reads to tell you about that you’ll hopefully find as interesting as I did!  Todd’s reading Targets of Revenge by Jeffrey S. Stephens, Adam’s reading Game of the Gods by E.J. Dabel, Sam’s reading Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason, and Christine’s reading A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan.  So, lots of new and unique stuff coming at you from across the genre spectrum.

Until next time….happy reading!

An Interview With Marie Brennan: Author of A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

Marie BrennanJoining me on the blog today is Marie Brennan, author of A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent. We discuss DRAGONS!

Your book, A Natural History of Dragons, is a fictional memoir of a dragon naturalist. Why did you decide to tell this story in the style of a memoir?

It fit the setting, which is modeled after the real-world nineteenth century. But mostly, it was that I started writing in the first person, and it naturally fell into a retrospective mode — Isabella as an old woman, talking about what she did in her youth. Approaching it that way lets me play the two timelines off one another, taking advantage of her later perspective while also exploring the recklessness and energy that comes with being young.

Were any of the characters in your book inspired by historical figures?

Not directly, no, though I was definitely influenced by a variety of women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who distinguished themselves as scholars — Ada Lovelace, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Carter, and so on.

Ironically, there’s one person who should have been an inspiration, but I only became aware of her after I’d already started writing: Isabella Bird. She wasn’t a scientist, but she traveled all over the world and published a number of books about the places she visited, which included Hawai’i, Japan, Malaysia, and the American West. You might think my own Isabella is named after her, but the truth is that it’s just serendipity; my protagonist was originally going to be called Victoria. Very early on, though — possibly before I even started writing; I don’t quite remember — I decided that just didn’t feel right. On impulse, I changed it to Isabella . . . and then later learned about Isabella Bird, who bears so many similarities to my protagonist.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing this book?

aNHoD Cover 300dpi

Illustrations by Todd Lockwood

Making the world work. I’m an anthropologist; I don’t mind researching cultures and so on, and I did a lot of period research for the Onyx Court books. But with my protagonist being a natural historian, I needed the natural environment to hang together. Which meant spending a lot of time with a climatology textbook, trying to figure out what kind of weather my geography would produce (and how to create geography for the weather I want), then looking up the animals that would be part of that ecology, and so on. It was enough to make me wonder from time to time whether I’d rather go back to writing in the real world after all . . . .

What is your favorite character or moment in A Natural History of Dragons?

Most of the answers to that would be spoilers! For those who have read the book, though, I’ll say my favorite moment is probably the bit in the cavern — that seems like a relatively discreet way to refer to it. For those who haven’t read the book, I’ll say that a close second is the menagerie scene early on, where she meets Jacob. That scene is the first point at which you really get a full-bore dragon showing up in the story, and back when I was first playing around with this idea, it really brought the whole world to life in my mind.

How do you spend your time when you are not writing?

I watch a fair amount of TV and movies — usually while doing other tasks that require less of my concentration — and recently I’ve started playing piano again. My main hobby, though, is role-playing games. Stories are my favorite form of entertainment, and that’s a way to enjoy them with friends. Which is important when you work from home, and can easily go all day without seeing anyone other than your husband!

Is there a historical era you are especially drawn to that you enjoy researching and reading about?

Several. Obviously I have a fair interest in English history, having covered the Elizabethan period up through the Victorian in the Onyx Court books, and then branching sideways into the pseudo-Victorian setting of Isabella’s memoirs. But I’m also very much interested in pre-Meiji Japan, and Republican/Imperial Rome, and Mesoamerica (the Mayans and the Aztecs), and Viking-era Scandinavia . . . I could keep going, but I won’t. I want to learn more about China and India, too, but haven’t gotten very far with those two yet.

What book(s) are you reading now?

Spirit’s Princess, by Esther Friesner, which is set in prehistoric Japan; Farah Mendlesohn’s excellent Rhetorics of Fantasy; the YA Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis; and Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. Plus back issues of the online magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies (I fell behind while finishing the next book of Isabella’s memoirs), which makes for little bite-sized bits in between work sessions.

Would you care to share your favorite books from your childhood?

Laboratory

Illustrations by Todd Lockwood

Diana Wynne Jones — very nearly everything she ever wrote, but especially The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Homeward Bounders, Eight Days of Luke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Fire and Hemlock, which is the book that inspired me to become a writer. Also The Secret Garden, which I sort of persistently read as fantasy even though it isn’t; I had that tendency a fair bit, with books like The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (another excellent children’s writer overall).

Do you have a current book obsession—one that you shove in the face of your friends and demand they read?

The same one I’ve had for a while now: Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. They’re historical fiction (set in mid-sixteenth-century Europe), but they’ve influenced a lot of fantasy writers — and they’re really just brilliant. Not easy to get into, mind you; Dunnett’s writing style is very dense and kind of opaque, and it took me a while to learn how to process it. But once I got the hang of it, she blew the top of my skull off.

Lastly, which dragon would you most like to hang out with: Elliot of Pete’s Dragon, Puff the Magic Dragon, or The Reluctant Dragon?

I’m going to have to go with the Reluctant Dragon. Apart from my fondness for English folklore (and the fact that I’ve been to the hill where George is said to have killed his dragon), who doesn’t love a dragon that likes to read books?

If you’re interested in learning more about Marie or her novel, see the links below! If you would like to download a copy of the book cover as wallpaper for your computer, you can click here.

Marie Brennan Bio: Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to many short stories and novellas, she is also the author of A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire (both from Tor Books), as well as WarriorWitchMidnight Never ComeIn Ashes Lie, and Lies and Prophecy. You can find her online at SwanTower.com

A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS: A Memoir by Lady Trent
By Marie Brennan (WebsiteTwitterGoodreads)
A Tor Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3196-0
Available here:
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