If this novel had been the same strength as the third one, I would not be eagerly anticipating book #5, but this novel really kicked it up a notch.
Politics play a much larger role in this novel, as Lady Trent and Tom Wilkins work with the Scirling army on a program to try to breed dragons for their bones. As introduced in earlier books, Lady Trent’s research directly influences world politics because of the technique for preserving dragon bones and the missing research material for synthesizing them. This made it feel very much grounded in reality, because of similar global competitions that happened on Earth, namely the hunt to steal tea plants and the struggle to find rubber plantations/synthesize rubber. Lady Trent is very much aware of how her research into dragons jeopardizes their existence. There’s also the continuing problem of her gender and Tom’s low birth, which holds them back professionally despite their astounding research contributions. I love it when fantasy feels so real it’s like a snide commentary on our own world.
The other thing that made this novel stronger than the previous one was the romance. Although the love interest is introduced in a previous volume, it wasn’t well-developed there. Here it clips along nicely, and in a fun turnabout, it’s the male relative who tells the woman how she bungled things, and the woman who sets about winning back the man she thought she’d lost, albeit clumsily, because Lady Trent is better with winged creatures than humans.
Dragons, dashing heroes, excursions, danger, and escapes, all set in a desert that resembles North Africa or the Middle-East. The shallowness of the supporting characters is still a flaw in this book, but it feels improved in this novel. While it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, it does imply there’s more to this story to come.
Minor nitpick: I love that there are illustrations, but I’d like them better if they were closer to field drawings and less like ink sketches for a cartoon.