A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie BrennanA Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan
Published: Tor Books (2013), Hardcover, 336pg
Source: Contest Win
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction

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. (from Amazon)

I won my copy of A Natural History of Dragons from Word for Teens— I LOVE dragons and fake memoirs and fantasy history, and as A Natural History of Dragons has ALL THOSE THINGS I knew I’d enjoy reading it. And lo! I did indeed enjoy it.

The historical fantasy thing is actually more like “set in an alternate world with a vaguely recognizable historical setting (Victorian? Regency?),” which is just as good as real historical fantasy if not better. It’s much easier to believe that dragons roam around a vague Victorian-ish era when it’s in a fantasy world– I was able to soak up all the good stuff without worrying about suspension of disbelief and whatnot.

A Natural History of Dragons is also a fake memoir, a tricky sort of thing to pull off. Fake memoirs almost never sound like a real memoir would, and this was no exception. (Real memoirs tend to sound less like coherent narrative stories with a set beginning-middle-end, for example.) However, like with the fantasy world setting, I was able to suspend whatever I needed to suspend in order to enjoy it. I wish I could do that with more books; I’d have a lot more fun reading silly things if I didn’t worry so much about unrealistic details. Anyway!

Isabella, aka Lady Trent, was an interesting sort of person. I actually liked her older self (the person writing the memoir) better than her younger self, but I think that was because her older self is more certain of her life and whatever. Self-confidence is always compelling, and while there are hints of Isabella’s future history in this story of her younger self, I totally want to read about older Isabella going on adventures. As in, not a memoir remembering stuff she did when she was younger– something written in the present!

Not to say that younger Isabella was boring or anything. The plot was VERY exciting– dragons and science and travel!– with plenty of emotional depth added in,too. It’s not easy being a lady scientist in Isabella’s world, though it apparently gets better when she’s older. In this book, there’s a lot of heartache both on Isabella’s part and in the people who love her. Luckily she has people who back her up no matter how weird or unseemly they think she is, and luckily she has a chance to develop her self-confidence throughout the course of the book. Isabella is a very compelling heroine to read about, and I will happily follow her into other books whenever they get published!

If you like historical fantasy, dragons, fake memoirs and/or any combination of the former, you’d definitely like A Natural History of Dragons. The writing is good, the world is interesting, and the characters are lovely and complex. Why NOT give it a shot, eh?

Read: March 15-17, 2013

Do you like books about dragons? What’s your favorite dragon-y book?

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