A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons: coverWe must, of course, begin at the beginning, before the series of discoveries and innovations that transformed the world into the one you, dear reader, know so well. In this ancient and nearly forgotten age lie the modest origins of my immodest career: my childhood and my first foreign expedition, to the mountains of Vystrana. The basic facts of this expedition have long since become common knowledge, but there is much more to the tale than you have heard”  (Page 10).

Lady Isabella Trent begins her memoirs with her childhood. From a  young age, Isabella had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Particularly knowledge about dragons. However, because of the customs that keep women out of scholarship and science in her country, Scirland (a fantasy version of 19th century Britain), she is not allowed to pursue her interests until she has married. Luckily, she marries Jacob Camherst. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and denies Isabella nothing–including her first expedition to study dragons! Isabella and her party run into quite a few challenges in trying to collect data about the Vystrani Rock Wyrms–a type of dragon that stuns its prey by breathing shards of ice at it (instead of fire). Can Isabella solve the mystery of why the dragons are attacking people (normally they are not aggressive towards humans)–and why someone seems to want them gone?

A Natural History of Dragons is one awesome book! I thoroughly enjoyed both the descriptions and the illustrations (scattered about here and there–they don’t overwhelm the book or distract from the story) of the sparklings and all the different types of dragons. I enjoyed Isabella and Jacob’s relationship, and how Isabella, who had prided herself on being so knowledgeable, realized over the course of her journey that she could also be narrow-minded and prejudiced. I think it goes without saying that I liked Isabella’s character very much. She is one awesome, dragon lady after all. My only complaint is that the plot got a bit bogged down toward the end with the Big Mystery. Yes, there were important things to learn about that, but I would have liked even more dragons! I also wanted to know a bit more about the Draconeans and their ancient ruins. Perhaps they will be explored in the later volumes. I really loved how the world was parallel with Britain and Europe in the 19 Century–but with dragons!

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Sorcery and Cecilia or Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. Both of these books blend fantasy in with 19 Century dress, fashion, social customs, and social politics seamlessly. A Natural History of Dragons will not disappoint anyone who loves dragons, adventure, and bit of realistic fantasy (what a contradiction!).

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