Release Date: February 5, 2013
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .
All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.
Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.
Marie Brennan introduces an enchanting new world in A Natural History of Dragons. (courtesy of Goodreads.)
A Natural History of Dragons is a book that defies categorization. It feels like a YA novel but is narrated by a married woman. With the presence of dragons, it is fantastical but models the culture of Victorian England so closely that it seems more like historical fiction. It is most definitely fictional, but is told in the style of a memoir.
Isabella was not a normal Victorian era little girl. She is fascinated by animals. She devours complex scientific tomes on avian and dragon anatomy. She sneaks into dragon hunts. This is the type of behavior that must be squelched if you're going to fit in as a proper woman of that era. And squelched it is...for a time.
This is such an odd book. As I said above, it's written as a memoir. Isabella has a dry, analytical voice. It makes the book feel stand-offish and slow paced. Yet at the same time, I had trouble putting it down. There really was no suspense and it was hard to become attached to the story or characters when the writing style kept me at arms length from the book. But I just had to keep reading. Perhaps because it's so different, it was compelling despite itself.
A Natural History of Dragons is set at an unstated time in a made up country. But it mirrors Victorian era England (or maybe Scotland) so closely that I just assumed that's what it's meant to be. The setting later moves to a Russia-like country for a dragon hunt/excavation/research.
Isabella is lucky to have good men in her life. It's a function of the time that she can't move up in the masculine world of dragon study without introduction by men. Her father is a kind, loving man who seeks to help his eccentric daughter find a husband who will allow her to live as she chooses. And she does. Her husband Jacob cherishes Isabella's intelligence and indulges her fascination with dragons.
Isabella grows into a strong, confident adult. The book is about her transition from an overly privileged young woman who longs to gain entry as an equal in the world of dragon scientists to a woman who is at the top of her field, widely respected, and knows just how clever she is. At times, Isabella made me cringe, especially with how she treated her servants, but she was young and she'd been taught a "proper" way to manage the "help." As the events of the book unfolded, I was pleased to see Isabella becoming more flexible.
A Natural History of Dragons is not precisely a pageturner. It has a plot but it's not overly compelling. But it is so different and written in a way that feels so real, that I got through it very quickly. If you're looking for something different, if you like historical fiction, if you like dragons, if you like memoirs, you will enjoy A Natural History of Dragons.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
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