In The Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan
Might contain spoilers.
Yes, the formula is clear now: Isabella ventures into a new extreme environment and must face perils and personal obstacles to make a world-changing discovery. Fortunately, stories are not something to be boiled down to an abstract, and this one is as enjoyable as ever. Three important things serve to distinguish it. The first is that Isabella is sent on a mission unaware that she is only to be a distraction while someone else accomplishes her objective. The second is the return of Suhail, crucial considering future events. The last is the Labyrinth itself, which alters so much of their understanding of the Draconeans. (Although they spend amusingly little time in it, considering the book is named for it.)
It makes sense that Isabella and Suhail fall in love and find happiness together. Granted, the change in her attitude—from being terrified of even the slightest hint of impropriety to the certainty that she must be with him no matter what—is a little abrupt; but we’ve seen their relationship develop over the course of two books.
As I mentioned last time, the reason why I’m not able to fully immerse myself in this world is that so much of it seems to be taking real places or cultures, moving them about, swapping a few stereotypical traits, and using different names: Scirland for England, Thessois for France, Yelang for China, Vidwatha for India, and Keonga for Hawa’ii. This carries some unfortunate connotations, such as Akhia essentially being a Western perspective on an Islamic country, complete with namaz, Ramadan, repressed women, and multiple wives. This may not be something the author is conscious of and to be fair, I don’t believe she ever uses stereotypes to paint the individual inhabitants of other countries in a negative light—only societies as a whole, therein included Scirland.
Nevertheless, I truly admire the way Marie Brennan has fleshed out her world, and I enjoy just as much how the characters have grown from when we first met them. Through their sustained efforts, the secrets of the Draconean civilization, once a distant backdrop against which the protagonists dealt with more immediate concerns, now appear on the horizon. I can’t wait to see what the answers will be: will they be something mystical or will they continue to be comprehensible to science, if extraordinary? Having read the preface to the next one, I’m very sad to see it’s the final instalment, and I can only hope it culminates in something suitably amazing. Of course, the thoroughly consistent tone and quality of the series thus far are good reason to believe it will.
Next in series: Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan(#5 in Thoughts & Spoilers: Books: The Memoirs of Lady Trent (2013))