Marie Brennan, Driftwood (2020)

Driftwood

Author: Marie Brennan

Title: Driftwood

Format: E-book

Pages: 225

Series: –

Marie Brennan’s foray into a new fantastical world comes with a lot of promise, built upon her previous series, The Memoirs of Lady Trent. That series, of which the first installment, A Natural History of Dragons, was reviewed here, had been a huge success, thanks to a happy confluence of several factors: an audacious and likeable narrator/protagonist, Isabella Trent herself; the main topic of the narrative – dragons, for many the most beloved fantastical creatures of all; the alt-Victorian/Edwardian setting with all the requisite flowery embellishment of dialogue and narrative; and, last by not least, the wonderful illustrations by Todd Lockwood. So, if you’re reaching for Driftwood with expectations built upon your reading experiences with The Memoirs of Lady Trent, beware: Driftwood has nothing in common with Brennan’s earlier books.

Not to be splitting any literary hairs here, but Driftwood is not really a novel. It’s a series of short stories connected by the setting and the recurring character of Last. Some of the stories are in fact just vignettes, focused solely on worldbuilding and showcasing characters as specimens of a particular culture; some of the other are more robust, having a discernible plot and sometimes even clear evidence of character development within its bounds. There are big and little individual and social dramas, stories of sacrifice and discovery, various religions and all that’s in between. Scarcely any science at all, which is baffling only at the first sight. For as you enter deeper into Driftwood you start to realize that the whole concept is an elaborate impression of our world’s diminishing cultural diversity. That’s my take on it, at least. To my jaundiced eye, the book revolves predominantly around the highly abstract concept of Driftwood itself – a landfill of broken worlds, floating purposelessly and inevitably through mists toward their crushing demise. We get impressions of different cultures and beliefs, alive in one moment and dead in the next, as parts of their worlds are inexorably consumed by the ceaseless grind of entropy.

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Marie Brennan, A Natural History of Dragons (2013)

A Natural History of Dragons

Author: Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 335

Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent, 1

An American folklorist and anthropologist turned writer, Marie Brennan aka Bryn Neuenschwander is an author known to many in the blogosphere for her entertaining and quite educational – if in the tongue in cheek style – series titled Memoirs of Lady Trent. For example, you can read the enthusiastic review by Bookforager here 🙂 Written from a first person perspective it grants us a rather unique narrative; for Lady Trent is an elderly and eccentric personage, whose old age coupled with enormous experience, accomplishments in the field of natural science, considerable wealth and status as well as an aristocratic background, free her entirely from fears of the sanctimonious outrage and possible sanctions of her society. This perspective lends the novels an air of unforced entertainment; a light, gossipy feel to what otherwise might have been a bit too heavy imitation of travel chronicles and taxonomy efforts of the nineteenth century naturalists and anthropologists. But most importantly – and incidentally it is where Brennan truly excels – the series is in essence a long, superbly meandering and convoluted love letter to dragons, envisioned as a family of species not unlike dolphins or apes: possessed of intelligence and – possibly – sentience, with their own rituals and traditions, and what at a first glance resembles the beginnings of a culture.

How it will all pan out, I don’t rightly know – yet, I might add – as I’ve only read two books so far. But I can already say with certainty that Brennan’s treatment of dragons, while fully indebted to Darwin, owes an equally great deal to Jane Goodall. The overwhelming sense of kinship with a family of species so different to ours is something I truly treasure here, particularly because Isabella Trent’s feisty and inquisitive nature easily lends herself to seeing the world around as a whole, all life irrevocably intertwined and interdependent.

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