‘Within the Sanctuary of Wings’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

The tale of how Isabella became a famous naturalist around the world thanks to her discoveries about dragons comes to an end in Within the Sanctuary of Wings. As in the four previous books in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series, Marie Brennan mixed an adventure with anthropological, scientific and cultural elements, creating a fantasy world and society that occasionally resemble our own. The relationships between the characters are not as explored as in other instalments unfortunately. Isabella’s newest discovery, however, is one of the most exciting.

Isabella was nearly forty at the time of the events that she is recalling. Once, while she was in her home country, Scirland, she was approached by a man who claimed to had found the body of a dragon of an unknown breed at the Mrtyahaima mountains in the Dajin continent. Mr Thu Phim-Lat was an exile who had been a mountaineer. In exchange for more information, he wanted Isabella to help his people, the Khiam Siu, to establish an alliance with Scirland’s government against the Taisên.

Mr Thu didn’t provide any substantial proof of his claim. He only had a pair of scales and the notebook that he used to sketch what he had seen. That was enough to arouse Isabella’s curiosity, though. Her desire to go there only increased when Mr Thu revealed that he also believed that there might be another specimen in the same area. Although there was no guarantee that a dragon could actually be found there, Isabella, Suhail and Tom headed to the highest mountains in the world.

The book touches on the difficulties faced by women. The main reason why Isabella decided to embark on such a perilous adventure was that she felt that she hadn’t contributed nothing significant to science recently. Being a woman, she would only be taken seriously by her peers, if she continued to make outstanding discoveries. Women had to work harder than men to achieve the same level of respect and recognition. And they were still fighting for equal rights on other fields as well. The campaign for the women’s suffrage is quickly mentioned.

Although some of the locations in the book are inspired by real places, Marie Brennan created an interesting world in terms of geography, culture and society. Isabella, Suhail, Tom and Thu stopped at a village where women married more than one man, more precisely their brothers, for example. The descriptions of the surrounding nature are also more often than not visually impressive.

“It seemed to me in that frozen moment, caught between the remnants of sleep and the wakefulness of an icy dawn, that no one could hope to understand my time in the Sanctuary unless they saw that mountain, ablaze with morning’s light.”

If the segment where the group was heading to the mountains is not as exciting as I was expecting it to be, the subsequent discovery is both amazing and surprising. The story becomes more engrossing then. The pacing reasonably and understandably slows down, in order to give the main character time to appreciate the moment and process all of her feelings and new knowledge.

The political and conflict elements of the book are slightly confusing. They are not completely explored. On the one hand, it feels like there is a lack of information that would have helped us understand the full picture of what is at stake. On the other hand, since this series is not at its best when it focuses on political manoeuvres, I was not too displeased that Marie Brennan didn’t decide to explore such issues further.

Generally-speaking, the books in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series (the previous being A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, Voyage of the Basilisk and In the Labyrinth of Drakes) shine brighter when they explore Isabella’s relationship with her family and friends. Within the Sanctuary of Wings lacks warm interactions between the characters that readers are already familiar with. Although I was expecting more from this final instalment, I enjoyed reading it. The imagination behind what Isabella discovered is undeniable.

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