Review: In the Labyrinth of Drakes

Posted: May 17, 2016 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Marie Brennan, Fantasy

If you’ve been reading this series you’ve probably wondered why “A Memoir of Lady Trent” graces the covers of the books when Isabella Camherst is the name of the main character. Well wonder no more, because here we finally learn how our heroine earns her title.

And she does it in typical Isabella fashion. That is to say, she wins her notoriety honestly. (hehe)

The events in the VOYAGE OF THE BASILISK has greatly advanced Isabella’s learning of dragon physiology and behavior, enough so that the resulting papers and speaking engagements has kept her financially afloat. But nothing compares to being in the field. When her co-researcher Tom Wilker is offered a position with the Royal Army to study desert drakes and their potential to being bred in captivity, Tom refuses to take the position without Isabella’s help. Despite Isabella’s contribution to the study of dragons, the army hesitates extending the offer to her as well, at least until they have no other choice. Rather than be offended by the army’s attitude toward her gender, Isabella doesn’t feel like she can turn down the opportunity of funded research.

So off to the foreign deserts of Akhia they travel.

Really, you have to read the previous books, they are all great, and only add depth and meaning to the series as a whole. You could read IN THE LABYRINTH OF DRAKES without reading the other books, certainly, but why would you want to? Isabella may not be able to shoot guns, fight, or even speak foreign languages as well as she’d like, but she can think. And she uses her smarts in all the best ways to solve the problems that face her. My teenage daughter loves these books, and there aren’t many heroines better than Isabelle.

Have you wondered why "A Memoir of Lady Trent" graces the covers of the books when Isabella Camherst is the name of the main character. Wonder no more.

This time her son stays behind in boarding school while she studies dragons in Akhia. However, she doesn’t only have Tom for company. Isabella’s brother Andrew happens to be stationed in the city where she’s working, and he becomes a valuable asset to his sister. Although, what you probably really want to know is if she sees the handsome/brilliant/kind Suhail again from book 3…and we do! Horray! There are other peripheral characters, such as Suhail’s siblings, Andrew’s senior officers, and the native desert guides, but the main story revolves between our four intrepid adventurers. Of course it’s an adventure because, well, Isabella is involved. They each contribute in their own ways, and appreciate Isabella for who she is. Andrew adds a nice humorous counterpoint to the serious political issues inherent in working abroad. Suhail’s presence is a complication, but it’s easy to see why Isabella likes him, and how her being in his life changes it for the better. Isabella is her usual self, but experience has tempered her impetuousness; she is well aware of her failings, but is learning where best to put her energies.

Nearly the entire book takes place in Akhia, a desert country of nomads, warring clans, and a strict religion. Isabella is limited by the army and the local leadership, as well as societal strictures. Fortunately she doesn’t let that stop her from studying the dragons. The story itself is structured much like the previous novels, in that they are her personal memoirs, and therefore contain Isabella’s observations, which are often wry and colorful. She tells the story in a way that even what we’d consider the tedious aspects of scientific study are suddenly fascinating and engaging. So even the details of a memoir can feel like an adventure.

Isabella is one to follow her nose–and in her instincts–and as with all her other excursions she intends to observe the dragons herself. This is a woman who seeks to push the boundaries of propriety for the sake of scholarship, but at the same time is true to herself and what she understands as her role in the world. Of course she encounters danger along the way, but at the same time knows to surround herself with those she trusts most. And the result is an amazing success, on so many levels.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: A handful
  • Violence: Some death but not bloody; vivisecting dead dragons
  • Sex: Nothing other than vague references to her

Read an excerpt from the website here: Excerpts in the Labyrinth of Drakes


  • Ria says:

    I love how this whole series basically attempts to answer how dragons can even exist in the first place. The actual science behind them. Since that’s one of the most common objections to fantasy novels that I hear (“Dragons couldn’t actually exist, so fantasy stories don’t follow any rules and are thus just badly written.”), it’s awesome to read through this.

    Plus bonus points for the fact that Isabella and Tom remain friends and colleagues, and the relationship doesn’t stray into romance simply because they’re around each other a lot. Weirdly, I find very few people willing to focus on a male-female partnership that’s doesn’t dip into romance or sexytimes, despite repeated claims that men and women can absolutely be friends without that happening. Maybe it’s catering to an audience, I don’t know, but personally, I love that this didn’t happen between those two!

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