Tropic of Serpents

Highlights from Marie Brennan’s Reddit AMA

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
In case you missed it, The Tropic of Serpents author Marie Brennan did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) earlier this week. Here are the highlights from it, including information about the world of Lady Trent, future books, and about Marie herself!

Why dragons? What do you think of the resurgence of dragons lately?

I think you’re right that dragons sort of became “unfashionable” for a while, because they seemed so overdone. But there’s still room to do interesting things with them; for example, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books crossbred them with Patrick O’Brian to get a really interesting historical and military flavor, focusing on whole crews rather than the single telepathically bonded rider that we were used to from Anne McCaffrey. It’s just a matter of getting outside our assumptions and saying, okay, if that’s been done, what else is there to do? In my case, it was a matter of looking at the 3rd edition D&D book Draconomicon and thinking, what if instead of killing them and taking their stuff, you were there to study their life cycle or something? It wouldn’t have worked very well as a game, I think, but I’ve been having a blast with it as a story.

Why do you use a pseudonym?

Because my legal name is unmanageable. My first name is often mistaken for male, and I don’t want to do the gender-ambiguous thing some female authors use to get around sexism. (I totally see why they do it, and don’t blame them, but I choose not to do the same.) My last name is unpronounceable and unspellable for most people, and my cover designers would punch me in the face for making them cram fourteen letters in there. 🙂

I knew at the age of ten that I would write under a pseudonym someday. “Marie Brennan” is probably the only decent writing-related idea I had at that age….

Did you read a lot of non-fiction books or books from the Victorian era to get the right tone for A Natural History of Dragons?

Yes, the Memoirs are written as if they were the true story of Isabella’s life, intended for readers in her own world. Most first-person fiction is narrated in a more “unspecified” frame—you’re just in the head of the viewpoint character, without an explicit definition of their reason for telling it and the point in time they’re telling it from. So I definitely draw a lot of the style from actual memoirs (Victorian or otherwise) and that sort of thing. When it comes to the content, of course, I take my cue from fantasy and pulp adventure, along with actual historical explorers and scientists.

I want to read the books Isabella mentions. Any plans for releasing versions of those?

You’re not the first person to ask that, actually. It delights me that so many people are interested in seeing the books Isabella refers to (whether that one or one of her own academic works). At the moment I don’t have any plans for that—writing the actual novels is occupying my time and energy—but if the series does well enough, that might be very fun to do. I’m a fan of “companion books” myself, like the sorts of things they’ve released for Harry Potter or His Dark Materials; it would be nifty to have something similar for my own work.

I love The Tropic of Serpents. What other books or authors should I try?

The most similar thing in my ouv oeuev oueueueouvre—seriously how do you spell that word—in my body of work is probably the Onyx Court series. They’re all historical fantasy set in London, but each one takes place in a different century, going from the Elizabethan (Midnight Never Come) up through the Victorian (With Fate Conspire), stopping off at the English Civil War (In Ashes Lie) and the Enlightenment (A Star Shall Fall) along the way. They’re all semi-standalone, in that their plots are mostly self-contained, but they do gain some effect if you read them in chronological order.

As for other authors, I have to take a moment to pimp Mary Robinette Kowal, author of the Glamourist Histories. They’re alternate Regency fantasies; the elevator pitch for the first one (Shades of Milk and Honey) is basically “Jane Austen with magic,” but they get more political as they go along, with some very fun intrigue. Our books have enough in common that Tor, our mutual publisher, will be sending us on a tour together in May, to Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Salem, Houston, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and San Francisco—details are at that link. No dragons in her books, though; if you want more of those, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is the logical one to recommend. Napoleonic War WITH DRAGONS!

Any fun traditions relating to Daylight Savings?

Heheheheh. Yes, the Coming of the Hour (in the fall) and the Going of the Hour (in the spring). The former begins at 2 a.m. and lasts for one hour, ending at 2 a.m., while the latter begins at 2 a.m. and lasts for one hour, ending at 4 a.m. The duly appointed Grand Poobah does not lead a quasi-religious procession around campus, bearing a cardboard clock and chanting random things, and even if they did, the ceremony absolutely under no circumstances would end with the burning of the clock, because open flame is not permitted on campus.

Hail Chronos!

Will there be more adventures of Lady Trent?

There will be five books in total! I just announced the title for the third this past weekend; it will be Voyage of the Basilisk. (And if that reminds you of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, you’re not wrong.) I can’t deliver “forever,” I’m afraid—I do have an arc in mind, which means there will be an end—but hopefully five will be enough to entertain you thoroughly.

For the rest of Marie’s AMA, head to r/books.

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