Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk, Book 3 of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Marie Brennan

 

Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan

Fantasy: Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan

The Memoirs of Lady Trent is a fantasy series that grows more delightful the further you get into it. In Voyage of the Basilisk, the third of the series, Isabella Camherst sets sail to new seas and mysterious islands on board the royal survey ship Basilisk, and seeks to answer questions that were raised about affairs both scandalous and political.

 

She is accompanied on her voyage by her longtime colleague Tom Wilker–professional colleague only, it should be noted–and by her son Jacob and his governess Abby. Along the way she has occasion to study sea serpents in both the arctic and the tropics, and fire lizards on the volcanic islands they inhabit. She also runs afoul of various bureaucracies, as she is prone to do, and inadvertently courts scandal through her (professional and platonic) relationship with a foreign archaeologist. But, people will talk. Meanwhile, we learn more about dragons and their kin, we see her relationship with her son develop, and we learn more about the political intrigues that keep her fellow Scirlings busy and create opportunities for Mrs. Camherst to find trouble.

 

Throughout, we see the challenges Isabella faces due to her gender. Her society, a sort-of Victorian culture, devalues Tom Wilker because he does not come from a family of breeding and nobility. However, a male commoner still carries more weight among intellectuals than a female. Even when that female is from the nobility, and even after that female has proven herself through multiple trips of discovery and papers published. Isabella finds that her notoriety and scandal seem to attract more attention than her scholarly efforts, and despite the fact that the scandals are mere gossip and not based in actual misdeeds she is constantly faced with her alleged affairs being of more interest than her academic affairs. 

 

I was reminded of a recent photo of a scientist involved in a complex space endeavor. The photo went viral because the scientist was “cute,” rather than because she was brilliant. I suppose the value of a photo over that of an article will typically lie in the attractiveness of the subject, but it is a shame that the scientist’s contributions (which were invaluable) were somewhat muted by the focus on her appearance, and as she herself noted, the contributions of her team were largely ignored because of the emphasis on her. I have never noticed a male scientist’s photo going viral because he was “hot,” or really any more than a cursory description of appearance in any male scientist’s profile. That seems to be a burden for female scientists, to be judged by gender and appearance as well as for any contributions they are making to their fields.

 

Lady Trent’s memoirs are designed to put the record straight. The only affairs she engaged in were academic affairs of studying dragons, and affairs of state that she stumbled upon. Her relationships with men were collegial and professional, and if they were friendlier than is proper in staid Scirland that is only because of long association and tight quarters and not because of impropriety. The gossip that may have swirled about her is just that: gossip. It is not true, and it speaks more of the bearer than it does of her or any of her companions.

 

Just in case there were any doubts.

 

Voyage of the Basilisk continues the approach of first person memoir from a proper Victorian-esque lady. If at times there are long discourses on the nature of dragons, that is to be expected from the writings of a natural historian. Like its preceding novels, Voyage is breezy fun that invites the reader into a fascinating world of proper etiquette and sometimes quite improper dragons.

 

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous GentlewomanTheodora Goss

Book Review: The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman 

Book Review: The Mortal Word (Book 5 of The Invisible Library Series), Genevieve Cogman

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

 

Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant got his start in the police department that handles magic by interviewing a ghost who witnessed a murder. So when a young girl who lives near his parent’s apartment says she has seen a ghost, he can’t really ignore her request to come investigate it. This is the first supernatural visit to London’s underground that DC Grant and DC Lesley May make. It won’t be the last.

 

Whispers Underground is the third installment in a terrific series, Rivers of London. Ben Aaronovitch uses a lot of humor and terrific characters to tell a magical story. After investigating the ghost young Abigail has found, they are called to investigate a murder, a young man stabbed by a piece of pottery. The pottery has traces of vestigium, the echo left by magic, an echo that only those trained in magic can usually sense. Grant and May are part of the Metropolitan Police Force’s department that handles magic and the supernatural, and they are now part of a high profile case.

 

The victim is an American art student, the son of a US senator. This means that the FBI has a vested interest in the case, and despite his quite junior status on the team the agent decides that Grant is the one she should focus on. Scotland Yard may have a division focusing on magic, but it doesn’t LIKE having that division, and especially doesn’t like admitting that they have that division…or even admitting that magic exists. They certainly don’t want to share that information with their friends across the pond. This makes things awkward for Grant. He is charged with investigating a crime involving magic, underneath the watchful observation of an FBI agent, without revealing that magic is involved or even that magic exists.

 

Good. Luck.

 

Aaronovitch continues his often hilarious storytelling style in this wonderful series. The humor is quite dry. In some ways this was the most “British” of the novels, with no efforts made to translate the British idioms into American ones for us colonists. For me that adds to the charm. I don’t mind looking up words that I don’t know. If I am going to read a book set in London, written by a writer living in London, I may as well experience the full effect. A trip to London is on my bucket list…but for now I will have to settle for the vicarious experience through fiction.

 

This series continues to delight. Through wit, compassion, and maybe a little magic, Aaronovitch gives us an urban fantasy that feels very real. His characters are wonderful, his setting is vivid, and his stories are imaginative. It’s hard to ask for anything more in a book.

Also see

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Hellbent, Gregg Hurwitz

Book Review: HellbentGregg Hurwitz

Hellbent, Gregg Hurwitz

Fiction Thriller: Hellbent, Gregg Hurwitz

Third book in the Orphan X series, following Orphan X and The Nowhere Man

A couple of years ago a fascinating book caught my attention. A thriller about a former government wet-ops agent who now worked secretly helping people who were in desperate situations, Orphan X was well written, had an interesting protagonist and strong secondary characters, and told a compelling story. Its sequel, The Nowhere Man, continued the story in riveting fashion, filling in backstory and introducing new characters to the series.

 

The third in the series came out earlier this year, and it is a thriller reader’s dream come true. Hellbent is one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year. I finished it in a five-hour straight shot. I made the mistake of starting it after traveling all weekend, and could not put it down. From beginning to end, Gregg Hurwitz takes the reader on a ride that had me gripping the edge of the book with white knuckles. The first two books in this series were excellent, but this takes the series to a new level.

 

Evan Smoak is Orphan X, part of a top secret program that recruited orphans who showed certain useful characteristics into a black ops training program. He was possibly the best of the “orphans,” brilliant, resourceful, and ruthless. His trainer, though, had become like a father to him, and as a father he taught Evan not only how to be a killer, but also how to be a human. Evan was raised with a code, commandments that his trainer instilled within him. “Do not kill innocents” was part of that code, a part that eventually led to Evan leaving the program and disappearing off the grid–which in his case was Los Angeles.

 

When Evan’s arch-enemy Orphan Y, the new head of the Orphan program, finds Evan’s trainer and kills him, Evan has a new mission: kill Orphan Y. First, though, he must decipher his trainer’s final message to him. That message leads to a most unexpected package: a teenage girl who was also trying to escape from the Orphan program. Suddenly, the Nowhere Man has responsibilities that go beyond a mere mission. Orphan Y wants to kill her, too. How can Evan keep her alive, go after Orphan Y and his group of killers, and deal with the trauma and drama of a teenager? The result is a fast paced and action filled novel with twists and turns that go beyond the core “how does our hero survive and complete his mission” of all thrillers. It includes the shock and awe of a shopping trip to Target to purchase “female products.” It includes learning how to listen, how to open up, how to become vulnerable without losing his edge. It includes asking a mother for advice on talking to a young girl. And before you know it, you realize you’ve read a complete novel with the requisite body count of a high octane thriller, but with an unexpected and delightful emotional depth that is rare in this genre.

 

Hellbent checks the boxes for a thriller. But what makes it next level is the emotional growth of the characters. We see new sides to some familiar characters. We see Evan needing help and reaching out for it, and we see others stepping up for him. We see a young girl, traumatized and alone, make informed choices that define who she is and who she will become. Throughout we see that characters define themselves by their own choices, who make emotionally difficult decisions that can cost them everything, who confront themselves and challenge themselves to become more than they have been. Hurwitz spins a great story, but more delightfully he draws great characters. Orphan X books will stay on my reading list because of those characters, and I cannot wait to find out what Evan Smoak faces in the next novel of the series.

 

See our — Book Review: Out of the Dark, Orphan X series, Book 4, Gregg Hurwitz

Hellbent, Gregg Hurwitz

 

Book Review: HellbentGregg Hurwitz