Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan


Title: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir of Lady Trent
Author: Marie Brennan
Release date: February 5th, 2013
Publisher: Tor
Genre: Fantasy
Source: e-arc from NetGalley

*Cover art and picture below by Todd Lockwood*

Description: "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.

My thoughts: I've been interested in dragon stories since I was a kid & my mum would pretend we were looking for dragons in the woods. As soon as I saw the cover for this book, I knew it was something I wanted to read, and the back-cover description (above) convinced me for sure. I'm delighted to say I was not disappointed. Marie Brennan has written the book as the memoirs of Isabella, Lady Trent, and I thought that gave it a unique, distinct voice. It starts with Isabella as a young girl, explaining how she became interested in dragons, and some of her childhood scrapes relating to them. She grows up over the first half of the story, then embarks on the first expedition of what will turn into a career.

The historical feel of the story is interesting - it feels like 1800s England, maybe - a place where women  stay in the home, taking care of their husbands, and definitely don't go galavanting across the continent chasing something as shockingly dangerous as a dragon. I love the adventures Isabella has growing up. They seemed very realistic, and I like the way it was told, with grown-Isabella almost shaking her head at her younger self as she recounts what happened. I felt like I was right there with her wishing for a way that she would be able to pursue her interest in dragons.
(Picture by Todd Lockwood)

The second half of the story takes place when Isabella is recently married - along with a few others, she goes on an expedition abroad to the mountains in search of dragons to study. While the travellers adjust to life in a rural foreign village, and try to find the dragons they have come to see, they are also trying to solve the mystery of what has become of the man who is meant to be their host. I liked how the various strands of the plot mixed together. Nothing seemed rushed, or unbelievable but it definitely wasn't boring - I found myself thinking "just another chapter" as I tried to put the book away to get some sleep!

As well as the lovely cover, there are other illustrations inside which helped bring the story to life - Isabella sketches, and it was fun to see what the dragons looked like. My favourite is when Isabella and her companions are examining a dead dragon, trying to work out things like how it flies.

A lovely foray into the world of the dragon naturalist, Marie Brennan's 'A Natural History of Dragons', the memoirs of Lady Trent, is a delightful combination of fantasy and historical, with an interesting narration style.

I can't wait to read the sequel! I give this book 9 stars.

Buy it here: Indiebound; Amazon; Barnes & Noble.

~Ailsa

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