Book cover: In The Labyrinth Of Drakes - Marie Brennan drawing of a dragon as hatchling, 3 year old and adultJake has gone to school. Isabella has weathered another storm of disapproval. And now King and country need someone to take over a dragon-breeding program in the deserts of Akhia. Where Suhail comes from. OH ISA-BE-LL-A….

I thought The Voyage of the Basilisk pandered to my deep loves and sentimentality. Reader, I had no idea. In the Labyrinth of Drakes takes it to another level, providing an emotional rollercoaster that leaves me exhausted with delight.

Damian Lewis in a natty Edwardian suit
Can we start fan casting yet? CAN WE?

Firstly, the Establishment ask Tom to pick up the reins of the failed experiment, and of course Tom refuses to do any such thing without Isabella. The loyalty these two share! With each book I have to shake myself to remember their inauspicious beginning, as I’m served another measure of delight in Tom’s fierce determination to their entirely platonic partnership.

But little things like attitudes can’t stop Isabella Camherst and Thomas Wilker.

Lumpy the dragon (illustration)
Smol and adorable

They will go to the desert and try to breed dragons, knowing their predecessor failed and the whole thing may be a put-up job because their reputations are expendable. This does mean some horror and woe at the things the first supposed scientist did to his dragon subjects (RAWR), but also means we meet Lumpy, who is definitely not Isabella’s pet, because that would be inappropriate. Just her favourite. Because that’s fine.

I have a soft spot for desert settings; I lived in the Jordanian desert one summer (I studied archaeology, and got a place on a dig). I seem to have got past my irritation with Marie Brennan’s world-building being almost but not quite indistinguishable from our world, because I’m loving the stories she’s choosing to tell. Here we have desert tribes, regional sheikhs and a ruling caliph; as well as the medley of cultures and religions the not-Arabic setting demands.

Alexander Siddig
I’ve had a crush on Alexander Siddig for years ok?

And Akhia means Suhail – who was recalled home so abruptly at the end of Basilisk. Brennan shamelessly teases and denies for much of the book, even as the plot offer shameless fan service of the romantic kind: family tensions, go-betweens, a desert kidnap and daring rescue, an assassination threat – it’s almost Mills & Boon staples, but with discussion of how to scientifically test the influence of temperature on dragon gestation rather than bodice-ripping.

And oh, Isabella, so unaware of the difference between what she says and what she means as she tries heroically to control her emotions and not put Suhail’s reputation at further risk! And oh, Suhail, with his bleeding heart and stoic resolve! And oh, Andrew (Isabella’s brother, along for the ride here) with his well-meant advice.

Honestly, I was quite wrung out.

And that was before they went to the Labyrinth of Drakes (and OOOOOOH THE THINGS THEY HAVE TO DO TO GET THERE) and it was various iconic locations of the ancient deserts rolled into one and my heart did another flip. And that was before Marie Brennan ensured that the greatest discovery of the time was made by a local man (yes, with some help from Isabella; but crucially Akhia’s past is in Akhia’s hands – this matters immensely to me); and both the description of the excavation and the focus on the detail of the disintegrating door just bowl me over. I appreciate that Brennan – for all these are sensational romps – frequently exercises remarkable restraint in her determination to have her characters Do Science.

All in all it made me so utterly happy I didn’t think I’d be able to write about it, and would have to resort to animated gifs.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤