Please enjoy this blog post by guest writer Mark Brestensky.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of stores with a medieval fantasy setting. Something about the idea of knights in shining armor fighting powerful dragons always captivated me. If it involved a dragon, I would be instantly drawn toward it.
One day, I was looking for a new book to read when I stumbled upon In the Labyrinth of Drakes: A Memoir by Lady Trent. The title stood out to me more so than other titles I looked at. Never before had I been interested in a memoir. But it involved a labyrinth of dragons, so naturally I decided to get the book.
What I did not expect was the actual setting. Going into the book, I assumed it would take place in a medieval world, with knights and kingdoms. However, to my surprise, the story actually takes place in a Victorian era. The book’s true author, Marie Brennan, had taken my expectations and twisted them into a much more interesting setting.
The setting’s locations are fictional, but are based on real world locations. For example, the main character’s homeland, Scirland, is based on parts of Europe. Quarrat, where most of the story takes place, is based on Middle Eastern culture. By relating these fictional locations to real world locations, the reader can better interact with the story and relate to it. Outside these fictional locations, only one fantasy element can be found: dragons.
Dragons are crucial to the military effort of the world Brennan created. Dragon bone is said to be the hardest material, and is prefect to make military ships and weapons. Logic would dictate that since dragon bone is so valuable, there would be dragon farms everywhere to produce more. Unfortunately, dragon breeding is a nearly impossible task in this world; a task which even the greatest minds cannot figure out.
This Victorian fantasy world plays well off the main character of the story, Isabella. Isabella, who is recounting her adventures through her memoirs, is a woman scholar and explorer. This can cause problems for her, however, as the Victorian setting reveals the hardships women faced.
Isabella often goes unacknowledged by her peers, and her life is seemingly covered in various scandals. The bulk of this story in particular also takes place in a fantasy version of the Middle East, and as such there are even more hardships Isabella must face. The book shows how Isabella must face the hardships of her gender in a time where women were expected to tend to the home.
When Isabella and her friend and colleague Tom are given the opportunity to revive a program that focuses on the prospect of successfully breeding dragons, the two immediately accept the opportunity. In their Quarrat lab, Isabella and Tom reunite with their friend Suhail, avoid a raid from a hostile nomad group, escape kidnapping, attempt to breed dragons with little success, viewing a dragon mating flight, and find themselves inside the long-abandoned Labyrinth of Drakes.
With so much adventure within the book, what could be a boring explanation of science experiments becomes an interesting and thrilling experience. These experiences are enhanced through the memoir style of writing. Brennan provides great detail no different people and situations, which allows readers to both picture Isabella experiences and what she thinks of these experiences.
As Isabella goes through the story, she will sometimes recount her previous adventures. At first, I thought it was just more great writing that allowed people to imagine all sorts of crazy adventures before this one. As it turns out, however, these adventures actually happened in other books! I had accidentally started the series on the fourth book.
What I liked about how In the Labyrinth of Drakes handled these moments is how I could understand them without reading the other books. Reading the other books in the series helps with the understanding of Isabella, recalls of her previous adventures, but they aren’t required.
Overall, In the Labyrinth of Drakes has excellent writing, both in its world building and characterizations. Isabella is a likable protagonist who you want to see succeed in her academic endeavors. Brennan expertly writes Isabella’s memoirs as if she was actually in this world she created and experienced everything she wrote about. Although, if this article interests anyone, I would recommend that you start at the first book, A Natural History of Dragons.