The Voyage of the Basilisk: around the world in 80 dragons

Book cover: The Voyage of the Basilisk - Marie Brennan (a sea serpent and a whale, illustration by Lady Trent)When you’ve stopped a war, been declared a traitor and jumped off a cliff on a dragon-bone glider, there’s little left to fear. But long sea voyages require capital, so it has taken Isabella a few years to prepare for her around-the-world trip. And this time she plans to take young Jake with her.

I have a terrible admission: I was so overwhelmed by reading, work and deadlines, I was actually planning to drop out of the Lady Trent Read-along. I enjoyed the first two books, and wanted to finish the series, but I was less committed to them than to other books in hand.

And then I heard Jake was going and my heart exploded.

And oh, I’m so glad I stuck with it. The Voyage of the Basilisk is easily my favourite Lady Trent memoir to date. I’m now head over heels in love, entirely committed to reading this one out, my heart bare to whatever may be thrown at it.


Okay. So – this is going to be a flail, not a ‘proper’ review. Those wishing for something more structured should probably just scroll to the end. Seriously: this is going to be all caps gushing. I may resort to gifs to express my joy.

Why? Well, it shamelessly panders to me for a start. Isabella is intent on studying sea serpents and fire lizards to prove they are truly dragons. SEA SERPENTS. While there is eventually some political entanglement, this one also has lots of honest-to-goodness natural history going on. And then they meet up with an insanely charming daredevil archaeologist. With a diving bell so he can study underwater ruins. Because he doesn’t just want to focus on the elites.

Just tick my boxes, Ms Brennan. Tick. My. Boxes.

Then I adore that Isabella and Tom now have a working relationship that is entirely professional, as well as a friendship that has him attending intellectual soirees at her house and has them both constantly looking out for one another.

And then there’s Jake. Young, headstrong Jake (not hard to see where he gets it from), who falls in love with the sea almost as soon as they set sail and whose exuberance for it is undaunted by the grizzly captain (A GROUCHY FOREIGN SEA CAPTAIN GENERALLY SAID TO BE MAD. MORE BOXES. TICK TICK TICK) relegating him to lackey status and giving him the dirtiest, most boring jobs aboard. Jake, who grows wise as he grows up, and who has formed a beautiful attachment to the mother who once left him with relatives while she gadded off to Africa (no judgment on her for doing so, either; but the moment where she realises that he has a secret fear she might leave him behind again KILLED ME).

This is all before we get to Suhail, the Akhian archaeologist. He’s just so darn pragmatic and down to earth, yet has cultural nuances and a mysterious family rift. Plus he gets absurdly, childishly excited at every opportunity to risk life and limb doing something daft like cliff-diving or thieving (shan’t say what; but MY WORD) or riding sea turtles. And did I mention his diving bell?

As if around the world in 80 dragons with the best of companions wasn’t enough, the latter half of the novel sees Isabella and friends shipwrecked on a South Pacific archipelago. I did a lot of whinging earlier this year about Naomi Novik’s hamfisted handling of homosexuality; by contrast, Brennan gives us an alternate Polynesia and depicts a society where transgender individuals – or the dragon-spirited – are, if not quite treated the same as everyone else, nonetheless accepted and confirmed in their gender identity.

And then there is politics and derring do.

All in all it was more than enough to delight me from start to finish (not least for Isabella’s horror at leaping to a scientific conclusion – and being unable to retract her scientific paper when realised it was wrong. OH NOES. I love that her scientific reputation is far more important to her than her standing in society, and fume alongside her that she is held to a different standard to male colleagues and rivals).

So I finished this with a full heart and much cheering, and I can’t wait to follow Isabella to Akhia.

Where Suhail comes from.

No, no, not shipping. At all. Much.