Sometimes we just need the familiar and the comfortable, don’t we?
A warm cuddle of a book.
The Natural History of Dragons series by Marie Brennan, of which Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the fifth and, it would appear final, installment, is one of those series. It’s not challenging; it’s a tad formulaic by the fifth installment; issues with pace still linger… but it is comforting. Lady Trent, our memoirist and narrator and proto-feminist naturalist, continues to be a charming and warm voice. And, it has dragons!
You can’t have too many dragons, really! And whilst there are a lot of dragons in this series – varied but credible and multifarious, ranging from flying beasts to sea serpents to swamp wyrms to creatures little bigger than a hummingbird – this book could have benefitted from more dragons! Because Brennan’s dragons are seen with a naturalist’s eye rather than a mythographer’s. They are very different beasts to George R. R. Martin’s dragons:
Very different also to Smaug.
Look who has learnt to add gifs to WordPress! Sorry. I’ll stop now!
Back to Within the Sanctuary of Wings and, yes, again, we follow Lady Trent as she embarks on a voyage to a distant part of her world – this time Mrtyahaima, a thinly disguised version of the Himalayas, in which a previously undiscovered species of dragon may or may not have been discovered. A voyage which may or may not have been a trap to lure her to her death.
Yes, again, she enters into a foreign culture and learns of their ways and customs and becomes accepted.
Yes, once again, her passion for the dragons leads her into a military entanglement from which she escapes triumphant. One wonders how many military entanglements Scirland can enter into! It seems terribly bellicose and rich to maintain them.
There is a – twist? perhaps – certainly a progression and development in this book from the previous four – which did actually take me aback and was a little unexpected but so firmly embedded in the formulae of the other books that it was easy enough to accept and move on with. Looking back at my recollection of the previous books, the twist changes our perception of things which we as the reader, along with our narrator, had assumed, and explains some of the findings and puzzles from previous books.
The pace of this book was a bit of an issue: for long stretches we witness our plucky young Lady Trent doing very little but eating porridge! But her voice remained engaging and entertaining. Presented as a memoir, it is difficult to build tension – our memoirist by definition must survive in order to, well, pen the memoir after all – but Brennan never presented these as thrillers. And her readers wouldn’t be expecting them to be by this point.
Yes, I’d have liked to see more of Suhail – and maybe more of Jake – but these were minor grumbles: the book did (almost) exactly what I’d expected and I enjoyed it thoroughly!
Plot / Pace: 🌟🌟🌟
Publisher: Titan Books
Date: 25th April 2017