Monday, 10 July 2017

#TheTropicOfSerpents by Marie Brennan mini review


The second entry in the memoirs of Lady Trent, these books are set in a Victorian era where dragons aren't from the realms of fantasy but firm fact, though little is actually known about them from a scientific perspective.

Rather than a straight fictional story, these books are written by Lady Trent in hindsight about her emerging scientific career within a Victorian Britain-esque society, where women's roles are traditional, and the family unto which one is born has so much significance on the life you lead and how you lead it. Once again, Trent breaks convention with another journey into the field to satisfy her ever irritating itch that is her curiosity for Dragons.

Trent has already broken these social conventions before in her journeys to Vystrana in the first book, to study Rock Wyrms. This time, she elicits yet more scandal in leaving for the Moulish swamps, more commonly known as the Green Hell, in Eriga, a nation rifled with politics, war and unfamiliar societies and cultures. This time, she aims to investigate the mysterious Swamp-Wyrms coupled with her chemical exploits into the preservation of dragon bone, a substance so uniquely perfect within it's host of a living dragon, yet useless after death.

Before she even arrives, Isabella who has not yet become the Lady Trent, is subject to dealing with public and family opinion of her widowed self travelling with fellow scholar Tom, as well as newcomer Natalie, who decides to leave her family and the task of finding a suitable husband in favour of accompanying Isabella on her journey. Ms Trent is also forced to abandon her newborn son to undergo her investigations, all of which see her gaining traction within the gossip columns of the press.

Once arrived, Trent is then tasked with navigating the social intricacies of the nation in charge, but also of the Moulish tribes that exist inside the Green Hell who are to be her team's hosts through her studies. She must successfully manage a variety of foreign and unusual social customs in order to gain acceptance and the ability to carry out her studies.

Trent agrees much too early on to carry out the acquisition of Dragon Eggs or even knowing if it can be done. She knows not of how this will be viewed by the Moulish tribes she is relying on to keep her safe (or at least, alive) within the Green Hell. Traversing this region is deadly enough, yet our team must contend with creatures, critters, diseases, dragons and most complicated and arguably deadly of them all - fellow humans.

Trent is always observing, and the descriptions in this book are just a vibrantly intricate as of those in the first, detailing the stuffy, insect infested surroundings with great effect, but also with a great level of affection. It's hard not to believe you're not actually reading a work by the great Lady Trent herself.

There are also plenty of death defying, action packed sequences to get your teeth into, keeping the adrenaline pumping during the course of her adventures, including one ingenious use of Dragon bone Trent must employ to help with a rather daring escape.

The studying of the Dragons they do manage to undertake is incredibly interesting, which, as the concept that drew me to these books in the first place, is a good thing! The biological, geographical, social, political, environmental and scientific observations are all exquisitely detailed and lovingly crafted, adding a wealth of realism! But let's be honest, we're here for dragons! And the biology of these ones is different enough from their cousins in the first book that you really really for Ms Trent to gain the opportunity for further study.

Marie Brennan has made another sterling effort with the difficult second album, which feels realistic and believable and composed with a level of affection that makes it a real page turner for anyone interested in a new take on travel writing, fantasy fiction and of course; Dragons!

Monday, 3 July 2017

My trip to #Dublin part 2

We awoke in our Air BnB surprisingly fresh after a night on the pop having already decided today was going to be the day for guided tours. And with the sun shining, we marched into town for our breakfast followed by a visit to the Leprechaun museum!

The Leprechaun museum was an excellent and unique experience. As you go in, you're greeted with pretty much the only room with an actual museum set up to it, with a few traditional photos and paintings, models and Irish advertisements and literature arranged behind glass and upon the walls.

After the tour guide arrived you're treated to a witty and dead pan introduction, blaming Disney for the perception of the Leprechaun today, and a more accurate portrayal of the traditional creature from Irish folk lore is conveyed.

Rather than going round a museum of artefacts, the tour goes from room to room each decorated in a different traditional way, to help accompany the story telling that the tour guide whom was extremely well rehearsed, knowledgeable and clearly from an actor's background, delivered.


It was a joy to listen to these traditional tales, and I really enjoyed the performance put on by our guide, who had a dark and dead pan sense of humour when retelling the stories, and pushed for a sympathetic view to the good old Leprechaun who are often given a bad rap for being mischievous creatures. You're of course treated to some obligatory photo opportunities, one with giant furniture, and the gift shop upon exit. At 14 Euros (Or 12 with educational discount) I'd really recommend this tour to anyone visiting the city.

After some more wandering, our next tour was to be the Jameson's distillery tour on Bow street. As a lover of whiskey you can only imagine how excited I was by the prospect of this tour around the factory.

My friend had bought me a voucher for this tour prior to our visit, but at 18 Euros it's completely worth it! As you go in to the recently refurbished Bow St bar and tour, there is a wall display with a timeline of the factory for you to peruse whilst waiting for your guide.

Our guide arrived and took as around a few different rooms. The first of which was an audiovisual presentation on the factories history. Rather than stick you in front of a DVD, the circular room has a projector and audio accompaniment, over which the guide narrated a history of the Jameson's factory. this didn't feel artificial or overly rehearsed and I felt our guide really had a passion for the whiskey and the company.


The second room was more about the creation of the whiskey, looking at the different malts, the different stages of fermentation and why certain flavours and aromas exist within Jameson whiskey. I found this interesting as well, learning of the use of different casks and three time distilling to help create the unique flavour. I also approve that they don't try and push their point of view upon you - this is how Jameson make whiskey - not the right way, just a different way to Scotch and Bourbon.

Finally, we were treated to a whiskey tasting. this was extremely thorough and revealing, as you're presented with 3 glasses, one with Jameson, one with Johnnie Walker and one with Jack Daniels. Getting to compare the 3 whiskeys to one another whilst being directed in what to look for in both flavor and scent was an illuminating experience.

Following the tour, the ticket also includes a shot of Jameson or Jameson and ginger at the bar below. There's also the obligatory gift shop with quality (if expensive) whiskey memorabilia.

For dinner, I'd looked up a vegetarian restaurant in Dublin named Cornucopia, an exclusively vegetarian and vegan establishment with a variety of interesting and healthy options for the none meat eater.

A bit of a strange cafe-esque layout doesn't distract from the epic quality of the food on offer - superb salads, bakes, puddings, drinks and smoothies, soups and more. I had a mushroom, tomato and dill soup followed by an eclectic mix of salads full of things I love; broccoli, beetroot, seeds and pulses and an organic chilli sauce. Pretty much my idea of culinary heaven. My friend enjoyed a carrot, garlic and sweet potato soup with my dill bread and her tomato bread, kind of hampering her enjoyment of the sweet potato goulash main course due to being so incredibly full! Well, when in Rome! An excellent meal accompanied by a superb classical guitarist.


The rest of our evening was spent exploring some of Temple Bar, the (especially) famous area in Dublin populated by pubs, clubs and bars. We ended up spending a lot of our evening in Quay bar once again enjoying live music, but frequented a few different establishments and had yet again another thoroughly enjoyable evening.


My trip to #Dublin part 1.

Over the weekend my buddy and I flew to Dublin. Ireland is somewhere I've never been before but had heard many great things about and I was exited if anxious about the trip. Anxious because of my stupidness with food & exercise but also on behalf of my good friend who has quite a fear of flying.

That being said, the flights by Ryan Air both there and back were pretty painless. We needed no extra luggage other than the carry on allowance, despite emptying duty free of all the Irish whiskey miniatures on the return trip, and we were able to check in for both flights online making the getting through security relatively straight forward. It's a faff, but it's a faff regardless so I was content with it being as straight forward as possible.


Return flights with no additions cost us that grand sum of £38.74 each which I thought was damned reasonable. The Air BnB which was booked by my travelling partner as a last minute deal, and set us back £165.11 for 3 nights. Accommodation was basic, but by Dublin standards it seems this is very reasonable, and to be honest I'd rather have a self catering flat than a swanky hotel. Around 15/20 minutes walk away from the centre of Dublin it suited me down to the ground, with a convenience store and nice cafe situated near by, too.

The outbound flight was and early one, getting us to Dublin airport for somewhere between 9 and 10am. It was easy enough to hop straight into a taxi, leave our bags at the flat, and head into the town.

To start, we did some general exploring and had ourselves some breakfast in a traditional Irish...err...Starbucks... Nice enough, and got us exploring the town a little.

We wanted to see a comedy show we'd heard about called "The Survivors Guide To Ireland" at a pub called International Bar on Wicklow Street. The duo were really good for the hour long show, and whilst the audience was a bit sparse they got many laughs and indicted some participation, and were generally great, poking fun at the different regional Irish accents, the feud between the North and South and other Irish stereotypes.


The majority of the rest of the day was spent without a destination cemented in place, but we visited St Stephen's Green - a beautiful bit of parkland in Dublin with a lake, water features and many statues including one for Barnardo's children's charity and one celebrating the aid that Dublin gave to German children after WWII. Of course, we brought the sun from Birmingham, through customs and into Dublin so the weather was perfect for wandering the park. 


We also visited Marsh's Library, an old academic library with some unusual claims to fame and history behind it. We were able to look at beautiful scholarly books and some of the artwork that had been displayed to represent some of the happenings in the library. Definitely worth a look for book lovers. 


Our afternoon and evening was then spent perusing some of the bars, listening to some excellent live music including some typically folky music by an ace guitar, mandolin and fiddle trio. The bars are all lovely in Dublin, even when they're heaving as the vibe is just so relaxed. Had an ace night before returning to the flat. 



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