Favourite Protagonists II

While some books shine thanks to their gripping plots, others enchant readers because of their convincing and memorable characters. They don’t need to have faultless personalities, but their traits and behaviours have to be plausible and feel genuine. A great, complex protagonist is always a plus in any novel. Since I wrote my first post about my favourite protagonists, almost four years ago, I’ve discovered other believable main characters that I soon won’t forget.

 

Mary Yellan – Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier created magnificent characters. The protagonist of Jamaica Inn, Mary Yellan, is just one of many. She is spirited, determined and curious. Although she is undoubtfully brave, in certain occasions she (understandably) succumbs to fear. It’s striking how she frequently muses on her behaviour towards other characters, particularly her aunt. Despite being well-intentioned, Mary is sometimes too severe with her.

 

Circe – Circe by Madeline Miller

Bullied and tormented by her siblings, Circe felt like an outcast since a young age. Madeline Miller clearly shows how the life experiences of the protagonist of this Ancient Greek myth retelling shaped her personality. After using her witchcraft powers, Circe is banished to a deserted island, becoming much more independent and less fearful. Her emotions are believable and palpable throughout. Continue reading

Book Series I’ve Recently Finished

Starting a book series can be a daunting experience, particularly when it is longer than three books and they are massive. When a series doesn’t have a clear direction, a well thought out beginning, middle and end, it can feel like the author is only still writing it because it was originally successful. It becomes a chore to read book after book just to get to the end of a story that we lost interest in mid-way through. However, some book series, in spite of our original reservations, prove to be a delightful journey to a new world or an immersive exploration of realistic characters.

I’ve recently finished four book series that were, overall, a joy to read. They are all very different from one another, despite two of them falling into the fantasy genre.

 

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb wrote five fantasy series set in the Realm of the Elderlings. The Farseer Trilogy is the first one. Set mainly in the Six Duchies, a kingdom ruled by the Farseers, it has as narrator and main character the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, Fitz, who is for the most part a convincing character and not an unflawed hero. He was both trained as an assassin and in the traditional magic of the family – the Skill. He also soon realised that he could establish a close bond with animals. Though for a while he didn’t know what that meant, he had the power of the beast blood – the Wit. This is a story that delves into court intrigue, lust for power, the difference between duty and self-indulgence, while also believably exploring various human emotions. Continue reading

‘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. Continue reading

Book Series – What I’m Reading

Reading book series is a great way to become fully immersed in a fictional world. I’m currently sinking my teeth into five book series and, until I finish at least one of them, I don’t plan to start a new one. Whenever I complete a book series, the plan is to replace it with another one of those on my wish list. I’m only mentioning on this post the series that I’m not caught up on (reason why the list below doesn’t feature A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin) and that I want to finish.

 

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

This is the first trilogy in a larger fantasy series set in the Realm of the Elderlings. So far, I’ve only read the first book, Assassin’s Apprentice, which is set in the Six Duchies, a land ruled by the Farseers. Fitz, the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, is trained as an assassin and in the traditional magic of the Farseer family – the Skill. Not only is this book full of court intrigue, it also delves into various human emotions.

After finishing this trilogy, I’ll certainly read the other series set in the same world. Although I considered the possibility of reading all the series featuring Fitz first and only afterwards picking up the remaining ones, I’m now more inclined to read them in order of publication. Continue reading

‘In the Labyrinth of Drakes’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

The adventurous Isabella may be a woman in a fantasy setting, but the challenges she had to face to be accepted as a dragon naturalist mirror those from the real world. In the fourth instalment of The Memoirs of Lady Trent, In the Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan continues to explore various current themes, such as women’s rights, social classes and the ethics behind scientific methods. As those who have read A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents and Voyage of the Basilisk already know, this series has evident anthropological, scientific and social components.

Thomas Wilker, an old-time colleague of Isabella’s who participated in all her exploits, was offered a place as a dragon naturalist at the Scirling Royal Army. Seeing that he would only accept the position if Isabella joined him, she became their employee as well. It wasn’t easy for the army to accept a woman in their midst, however. Their mission was to go to Akhia to discover how to breed dragons. Their bones are light but immensely strong. Although they decay really fast after a dragon’s death, there is a method for preserving them. In order for the army to have a steady supply of bones, dragons had to be bred. Killing the ones in existence wasn’t a viable solution, as that would only lead to their extinction.

In Akhia, a couple of reunions awaited Isabella. The first one was with her brother Andrew, who was in the army and asked to be sent there to see her. She was delighted to be able to spend some time with him again, since he was one of the few relatives that she truly loved. She also encountered an old friend, which resulted in renewed gossip that almost created further complications for her work. Isabella, fortunately, didn’t always behave in a way that was deemed socially acceptable for a woman. Continue reading

‘Voyage of the Basilisk’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

Those who enjoy a fusion of fantasy with scientific and anthropological elements may have already heard of the book series The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan. Lady Trent, also known merely as Isabella, is a respected dragon naturalist who is recounting how she managed to achieve that status. Voyage of the Basilisk is the third instalment in the series, after A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents. In order to comprehensively review it, I’ll have to mention some of the events revealed in the two previous books. So, if you haven’t read them, I advise you not to read ahead.

The curiosity of the readers is aroused right since the beginning of the book. In the preface, Isabella introduces what she will recall in this part of her memoirs in a compelling manner. She will reveal what happened during her two-year journey aboard of the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk. Although she has written about it in other occasions, those texts were not totally accurate, since a high-ranking officer in His Majesty’s Royal Navy had forbidden her from telling all the truth at the time of the events. We are also to be given an insight into more personal matters, as it’s requited from a memoir.

Accompanying her during the expedition were her son, Jake, who was then 9 years old, Tom Wilker and Abby, her new governess. Natalie Oscott, who had become her live-in companion, since being disowned by her father for going to Eriga, remained in Scirland. Their purpose was to find draconian species, in order to study their biology and actions, which leads to a discussion about the distinction between true dragons and other draconian creatures. Continue reading

Dragons in Books

Many books in the fantasy genre feature dragons as real animals and not as mythical creatures no one has ever seen. They are serpentine beings that spew fire and have both reptilian and avian traits. Despite sharing these characteristics, the role they play in a specific story vary according to the world created by each author. In some books dragons can speak or have riders, while in others they are subject to scientific studies. I’ve read a few books which include dragons, all having different parts to play.

When we think about the Harry Potter series the first word that comes to mind is wizards. But the books in this beloved series also feature dragons, although they are not one of the major elements of the world created by J.K. Rowling. They were used as an obstacle to be overcome in the first task of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for example. Dragons, in the world of the Harry Potter series, are generally considered impossible to either train or domesticate. They are seen as dangerous, since they can kill wizards. Nonetheless, there are people trained to work with them.

Dragons assume a more relevant and totally different role in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan. This is a fantasy and adventure series where the protagonist, Lady Trent, recalls how she became a famous and respected dragon naturalist. So far, I’ve only read the first two books – A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents. However, it is obvious from the very beginning that in this series dragons are not portrayed as magical or mythological creatures, but real wild animals that roam free in various parts of the world and are scientifically studied. Continue reading

‘The Tropic of Serpents’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

In the second instalment of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series, titled The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan reveals the story of the journey of the future prominent dragon naturalist Isabella to Eriga. As in the first book, A Natural History of Dragons, an adventure is embroidered with scientific, anthropological and social strands. But it mostly stands out when the focus is on the characters’ feelings and their personal ordeals.

Although it takes place three years after the events reported in the first book (which I will not spoil in this review), it’s connected with it by mentioning how Isabella dealt with the personal consequences of her first trip to Vystrana and how the investigation following her discoveries about dragon bones was disrupted by a robbery.

Isabella’s second adventure, which is detailed in this book, took her to Eriga, but first she had to face a challenge as difficult as her expedition: her family, more precisely her mother and her concerns. Many of the criticisms she faced were related to the existence of different expectations regarding women’s and men’s duties towards family. I have to admit that even I was ready to criticise her (as I would also censure a man in the same circumstances) before she explained how she was remembered of previous suffering by fulfilling her expected family duties. Continue reading

Book Haul – July 2017

I had promised myself not to buy any more books until I found a place to properly store my unread ones (right now they are perilously piled up on top of each other and the risk of them falling down is too real to be overlooked). However, it was my birthday this month and I needed to give myself a present. I could have bought only one book, but that wouldn’t be a proper gift. Five seemed like a good number!

 

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

After loving Rebecca, I became eager to read all the books by Daphne du Maurier. To read one every year seemed like a good goal. But when I realised that an adaptation of My Cousin Rachel had just been released, I decided to buy the book and read it this year before seeing the film.

From the blurb, this seems like quite a mysterious story, which involves a widow and her dead husband’s cousin. Continue reading

‘A Natural History of Dragons’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

A Natural History of Dragons, the first book in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, is a fantasy and adventure story with prominent scientific and anthropological strands. Throughout the novel, many remarks are made about how difficult it was for a woman to be truly accepted by the scientific community. Even though the story takes place in a fictional world, it highly resembles our own some centuries ago, just with dragons flying in the sky.

Lady Trent tells in the first person the story of how she became a famous and respected dragon naturalist. Isabella was the only daughter in a set of six children and wasn’t known for her ladylike ways. She first became obsessed with all animals with wings. Her special interest in dragons began while reading the book ‘A Natural History of Dragons’ by Sir Richard Edgeworth.

Her first reckless adventure took place still in Scirland, where she was born and grew up, when she was 14 years old. Dressed as a boy, she managed to take part in the hunt for a wolf-drake, because she wanted to see it alive and not already dead. From the beginning of the story, we realise that she has always been adventurous, curious, intelligent, a little reckless, but kind-hearted. Continue reading