Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan
I originally received this as an ARC, but then bought it anyway because I wanted a print copy so I could look at the illustrations better. I ate this up in a couple of hours. If you’ve enjoyed the previous books, this will give you more of the same: adventures, a female main character with a bright and scientific mind, interesting problems of taxonomy when it comes to dragons, politics, encounters with other cultures…
It very much mimics the style of memoirs written in the analogous time period in Britain, so I think you have to excuse what other people have read as a colonial tone. Scirland (Britain) is still an empire, here, and Isabella works under those assumptions as much as she assumes she can breathe air. She does meet other cultures, and treat them with respect, but sometimes with an air of private condescension that (to me) just works as part of her character, her driven nature, and the world she lives in. Your mileage may vary, but I don’t think it’s invisible to Brennan; I think it’s part of the character and world she’s building.
I’m enjoying the matter of fact inclusion of queerness in the story, too. As is Isabella’s wont, she doesn’t pry into people’s personal lives much, and the idea of queer people is essentially shrugged off as one of those things that happens, and not really her business. Even where it’s story-relevant, there’s only one moment where she does anything that one might call prying — and it’s understandable in the situation.
I’m afraid that despite Isabella’s best efforts, I do wish she’d up and marry Tom Wilker. I love the evolution of his character, too: the belligerent way he started out, the way he’s come to respect her and drop some of his barriers around her, the way they rely on each other, and of course society’s slow acceptance of the working class lad who has worked his way up. I was less taken with Suhail, because I just like the adversarial, sparring relationship between Tom and Isabella.
Oh, and you’ve got to enjoy the evolution of her relationship with her son. I love that he’s become “Jake” instead of Jacob, love that she’s found a way to relate to him, spend time with him, and be a mother to him, despite her initial rejection of the traditional mother-son relationship.
One thing that is getting hard to swallow: Isabella’s way of getting entangled in politics wherever she goes. Not just local politics, but politics with deep relevance to the crown. But it wouldn’t be such an interesting read without those complications.