A few months ago I opened up an email from Kim with the subject “Coming Soon: A Natural History Of Dragons by Marie Brennan”, asking if I wanted a copy to review. I replied “HEEEELLLLLLLSSSSS YEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!”, because I am a professional. I love fantasy. I love dragons. So yes, the second I read the synopsis of A Natural History of Dragons, I absolutely wanted to read it.
In a world much like ours during the Victorian era, there is a girl, Isabella, who is fascinated by dragons. Because she is a girl, she is discouraged from pursuing scientific studies, but because she is awesome she doesn’t care and she eventually becomes Lady Trent, a preeminent dragon naturalist. The premise of the novel is you are reading Lady Trent’s memoir of how she progressed from a bookish girl who went against the conventions of her time to become the renowned expert on dragons.
Based on the title of the book and the synopsis I read, I assumed this was going to be a memoir of Lady Trent’s entire life and work with dragons, so I was a bit disappointed at the length of the book (about 330 pages) when it arrived in my mailbox. I was a third of the way through the book before I realized my assumption was wrong, and this was the first book in a series. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, and sometimes that can alter one’s view of a book. That said, I enjoyed this book. It was a fun read and an interesting take on the fantasy/dragon genre. Lady Trent’s voice as she narrates her early years is engaging and I loved the moment’s when she would basically say, “Look, I was young. I was an idiot. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I’m being honest and this is how I was back then.”
The book recounts Isabella’s childhood and her first adventure as a young woman to the foreign land of Vystrana in search of dragons, which is where most of the story happens. There are foreign customs to learn, mysteries to solve, bandits to escape from, possible curses to break, and above all, dragons to search for and study. Isabella’s time in Vystrana very much reminded me of an adventure story along the lines of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (don’t tell me I’m the only one who loved that TV series), only told through the perspective of an older and wiser Lady Trent.
I would have rather read a longer “memoir” of Isabella’s entire life, but I enjoyed the first tale of her discoveries and adventures, though I did think the ending was a bit rushed. Though it is fantasy novel, I think readers of historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy the story, as the fictional world and era Isabella lives in are very close to the Victorian and Edwardian era. I can see how some readers of fantasy might wish for more fantasy aspects aside from the dragons, but I thought it was a great blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Also sprinkled throughout the book were some lovely illustrations of dragons and scenes from Isabella’s world, which definitely enhanced the story.
3 out of 5 Stars
A Natural History of Dragon: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Tor Books (2013)
Hardcover: 336 pages
Special thanks to Tor Books for my review copy!