Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Book cover: Within the Sanctuary of Wings - Marie Brennan - dragons!Isabella, Lady Trent, is now a famous scientist and a happily-married woman – if still unwelcome in the ranks of the Collegium. But there’s nothing so dangerous as boredom, so when a Yelangese rebel puts temptation in her way, Isabella, Suhail and Tom set off on their biggest adventure yet…

It’s been a long journey from Isabella’s childhood to her illustrious adult career. While it’s always a delight to pick up another Lady Trent book, the knowledge that it was the last made WIthin the Sanctuary of Wings a bittersweet joy.

And if I’m honest, it got off to a bit of a slow start for me. Don’t get me wrong – the first part tantalised me with Isabella and Suhail’s marital bliss (no ship like a happy ship:

“I love you for your mind”

…and other things, let’s be honest) – and I was as intrigued as Isabella by Thu Phim-lat and his mysterious new breed of dragon. What might she find in the freezing heights of the Mrtyahaima? How would she persuade the Scirlander government to support her expedition into this contested terrirory?

However, it was inevitable that she would talk them into it (or find other means), so I was less engaged by the manoeuvring required to make it happen. I found the second part, in which her expedition is beset by disasters in the mountains and makes little progress, even slower going (alternating the read with PC Grant and The Expanse did the first half of this book few favours – it should have been gripping, but the bar was set terribly high).

However, there was – as usual – plenty to enjoy in the character interactions, even if the logistics and perils were less than gripping. And honestly, none of it matters once Isabella is separated from the rest of the party by an avalanche. At the risk of going full clickbait, I couldn’t believe what happened next and when I scraped my jaw off the floor there was helpless flailing and squealing for some time.

The central two parts of the book are Lady Trent at her finest: isolated, fearful, under immense pressure …and still unable to resist the lure of scientific investigation. Isabella is an impetuous creature driven by intellect and curiosity – no matter what hardships her adventures throw at her, she’s still at heart the girl who ran down a dark street in her nighty to chase a foreign smuggler.

And yes, I’m going to dance around exactly what she finds in the mountains. For those who have followed her adventures this far, it’s the perfect finale; for those who haven’t, you should (and if you’re not going to, it wouldn’t make a shred of sense anyway). Hats off to Marie Brennan for the careful crafting of the series arc: it is enormously satisfying.

After the emotional rollercoaster of the central sections, the final act settles down to tie up the many loose ends and explore the inevitable political consequences. Once again, I felt like a bad reader – while I wanted to know the outcome for Ruzt and her sisters, I was less interested in how the broader Yelangese situation played out, and more or less skimmed the final chapters.

But the endpaper sketches of Lady Trent past and present still moves me to tears – the illustration captures the character perfectly and it’s FEELINGS ALL THE WAY DOWN.

It’s been one hell of a ride. This is a series I will read and reread with joy for years to come.