a natural history of dragons

I’m so glad dragons are making a resurgence in fantasy.  I know they never ‘left,’ per se, but I grew up on the tales of Wrede, McCaffrey, and Yolen, and it is a wonderful to see books like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina taking home awards for writing.  Of course, young adult doesn’t have a corner on the dragon market, and there have been many wonderful dragon stories in adult fantasy as well.  I’ve just read one of them, and I’m happy to report that it was unique and spell-binding.  Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent is a fabulous tale.

a natural history of dragons by marie brennan book cover
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.

A Natural History of Dragons is written in the style of a memoir, one by a famous dragon naturalist, Isabella, Lady Trent.  ‘She’ writes from the perspective of a scientist at the end of a long career.  As she examines the youthful interests and experiences that sparked her interest in dragonkind, she also muses on life, love, society, politics, and the progress of technology over time.  In so doing, she shows herself to be a keen observer, a passionate devotee of natural history, and an eccentric who cannot resist the pull of scientific study.

This book, the first in a planned series, follows Isabella from her childhood in the country through her adolescence and on her first expedition.  As is the case with memoirs, it is told entirely through the lens of Isabella’s experience, but it does not suffer from this focus.  Isabella gradually progresses from studying sparklings (insect-sized dragon cousins) to admiring living dragons, to finally joining an expedition to study them in their natural habitat.   The story is also full of hijinks from Isabella’s younger years, falling in love, and coming of age. The common thread through all of this (of course!) is a passion for dragons.  Dragons are the be-all and end-all of Isabella’s existence. 

I found A Natural History of Dragons fascinating, uncommon, and full of unexpected bits of alternate world society trivia and twists of fate.  I felt as if I was reading nonfiction, albeit exceptionally interesting nonfiction (a la Into Thin Air), with the added bonus of fantasy elements and gorgeous illustration.  Todd Lockwood’s art is certainly one of the highlights of the reading experience – just look at this drawing!

sparkling a natural history of dragons todd lockwood
art by Todd Lockwood

Beware: these aren’t the awesome but basically tame dragons of lore.  They’re wild beasts that belong to an unfamiliar world, and they will strike close to the heart if provoked.  At the end of the volume I found myself wide-eyed and longing for the next installment in Lady Trent’s adventures.

Recommended for: fans of dragons (all kinds), those who enjoy books that pay homage to the manners and mores of Regency/Victorian England (i.e. Georgette Heyer, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey), and anyone who has caught themselves wondering about the anatomy and physiology of mythological creatures.

Check back tomorrow for a blog tour stop with an interview with the author (and GIVEAWAY!).

Fine print: I received an e-ARC of this book for honest review from Tor.


Liviania said...

I'm so glad you liked this one, because I have an ILL out on it and would be very disappointed if you didn't. Brennan's one of my favorites and you compared her to Kowal, another one of my favorites . . . so I'm definitely glad it's on the way to me!

Cecelia said...

Liviania: I think you'll love this one. It could be a bit dry or slow-developing for some fans of YA, but you're used to adult fantasy, so I don't imagine that will be a problem. Isabella is such a character! I kept imagining her reading in the Dowager Countess' voice (from Downton), and it made me smile.

Gina @ My Precious said...

I loved this one. The writing style was refreshing, entertaining and it captivating from the first page. I thought the illustrations were beautiful, too.

Erica said...

OMG THIS BOOK LOOKS LIKE THE COOLEST THING EVER. Thank you SO much for bringing it to my attention :)

kayerj said...

I've always loved dragons too, I think I would love this book. The art work is fabulous.

Lisa said...

I'm not much one for fantasy but I must say this one does sound interesting.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't sure about this one, though I adore fantasy and love me some dragons, but your review has definitely pushed me into the "must read!" category. I'm excited to get my hands on this one now =)

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