Review: Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

Sunday, May 21, 2017
Title: Within the Sanctuary of Wings
Author: Marie Brennan
Genre: fantasy
Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent #5
Pages: 352
Published: April 25 2017
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

The conclusion to the thrilling memoirs of Lady Isabella Trent and her legacy of dragon evolutionary research and anthropological adventures.

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the fifth and final novel in Marie Brennan's anthropological fantasy series about a (usually scandalous, never boring) female dragon naturalist. It's Isabella's most daring adventure and biggest discovery yet -- and that's saying something if you know any of the details of Lady Trent's first four books. Even this far into the series, Brennan has creativity and imagination to keep her stories and characters fresh and interesting. Journeying to all new locales and encountering new dragons to study and learn, Within the Sanctuary of Wings contains all the manners and mayhem we've come to expect while effectively tying up the series' plot elements.

Isabella is a force to be reckoned with, as she has been all her life. Here in the last book chronicling her storied and scandalous career and private life, she is a tad bit wiser, a tad less heedless and reckless, but she is no less intellectually curious or personally ambitious. In fact for the first time and thanks to her new marriage, she is motivated by more than just scientific career goals. Her fictional life is robust with action and scientific experiments; she defied societal expectations when she was first Lady Camherst and never failed to continue to do so through her various elevations and associations. Reading from her perspective is a unique experience every time, but a fully-developed one. The memoirs cover five decades of Lady Trent's unusual experience - from an awkward child to potential bluestocking to scholarly infamy and beyond - so it's easy to invest in her personally, and the secondary characters to a lesser degree. 

While Within the Sanctuary of Wings makes for an undoubtedly fun and entertaining read, it feels a bit short for a concluding volume at only three hundred fifty-odd pages. Some of the story's central plot elements feel a bit.. underdeveloped and rushed in the narrative's drive to wrap up all the loose ends of Isabella's life. The main plot of the book is clever - tying in hints and allusions and glimpses from the previous novels about a central mystery at the heart of the world [the Draconeans are alive?! What?!] - as well as some other unexpected parties, but it felt somewhat unexplored before the ending.

As a whole the Lady Trent books have been wryly funny mixes of Victorian attitudes and a fantasy world. With storylines concerned with everything from smashing patriarchal political complications to uncharted draconic exploration, there's a lot to enjoy about Marie Brennan's final chapter in this smart story.


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