Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent #5
Publisher: Tor (April 25, 2017)
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Length: 352 pages
My Rating: 3 stars
Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the fifth and final book in Marie Brennan’s The Memoirs of Lady Trent, which chronicles the explorations of this dragon naturalist. Probably it wasn’t the best place to begin my journey with Isabella, but, all in all, I found the narrative easy to grasp, the dragons interesting, and the allure of the Lady’s voice hard to resist.
The story begins with Isabella’s quest to explore her world and learn about all the bewildering varieties of dragons unfulfilled, as well as her ambition to enter the prestigious all-male Philosophers’ Colloquium unrealized. But this momentary lull in the advancement of Lady Trent’s goals is short-lived as a Yelangese man interrupts her husband Suhail’s lecture on Draconean language, announcing that the remains of an unknown dragon species has been discovered in the inhospitable Mrtyahaima Mountains.
Naturally, Isabella must go and verify this for herself. The fact that her homeland of Scirland and Yelang are currently at war, that she herself is not beloved in Yelang due to events in the past, and that she will be climbing unto the highest peaks of the most rugged mountains on her world does nothing to deter her determination. And, soon, the Lady, her husband Suhail, her companion Tom the Dragon Scholar, and a Yelangese guide set out on a daring expedition, which is part adventure, part exploration, and part scientific discovery.
Without a doubt, Isabella is the focal point of this story (as would be expected of a memoir). She is a very engaging narrator, shifting effortlessly from self-depreciating humor to clever remarks to scathing political commentary to profound scientific exposition, and carries the tale from beginning to end with her compelling voice. Something which is absolutely necessary since the narrative would have certainly floundered quickly without her, because, unfortunately, the story itself is a bit on the dull side.
I realize it is hard to believe that an expedition into hostile territory through rugged terrain and sub-zero conditions to uncover what could be a world-changing scientific discovery could ever be dull, but it really is. Mainly, this is due to the fact this is a “memoir”; a title which proudly announces that no matter the risks before her Lady Trent will come through unscathed. And it is hard to fear for her safety as she braves dangers great and small, because she is obviously writing this after her survival. She herself acknowledges the tediousness of much of her great expedition, saying, on more than one occasion, that she isn’t relating what occurred because it is too banal to be interesting to her readers.
This brings up another criticism: WtSoW is a one person story. For whatever reason, Marie Brennan relegates the few people around Isabella into minor role players; each given only token tasks in the events transpiring around them. From reviews of the other volumes in the series, this appears not to have been the case in the past, as Suhail and Tom, in particular, played pivotal roles. Why, in this final installment, the author chose to jettison that writing style and leave it all up to Lady Trent to carry the load of the tale I don’t understand. Certainly, Isabella is up to the task (barely), but I can’t help but believe the narrative would have been better served if her co-stars had been given more importance in the goings-on, interacted more with our star, and, perhaps, shown some growth from beginning to end.
Even with those criticisms, Marie Brennan’s novel mesmerizes in its clever handling of dragons and their scientific role in a fictional world. These great beasts revealed as far more than mere mythical creatures or magical beings. Lady Trent’s desire to scientifically explain them quite entertaining and immensely interesting. Those section where the science shifts to the forefront probably my favorite sections of the whole narrative.
Within the Sanctuary of Wings is a fitting closure to Lady Trent’s tale; her adventures of scientific discovery ending on a compelling note. While it is a story which can be enjoyed on its own, I believe prospective readers would be better served if they come to this conclusion after having been immersed in all Isabella’s previous tales.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.
One of my main criticisms too was that this was an Isabella-centric story, but otherwise I really enjoyed it. I really would have liked more Suhail!
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