A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan – Review

aNHoD Cover 150dpi

“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.”

A Natural History of Dragons is exactly what it sounds like. A memoir written by a Victorian naturalist who has an obsession with dragons and embarks on an adventure to be on of the first to study them. What follows is a half travelogue, half whodunnit book that was fun every step of the way.

What drew me to this book, more than anything else, was the absolutely gorgeous cover illustration done by Todd Lockwood. I know they say don’t judge a book by it’s cover and while certainly that holds true, I couldn’t help myself. It captured my imagination and curiosity more so than a fair amount of the others on the bookshelf these days and the interior illustrations, also done by Todd Lockwood, are just as stunning.

Dead DragonLady Isabella Trent is a wonderfully charming female-lead who is willing to break from the gender roles of the era and do as her heart desires, study dragons. Her maneuverings through the gender-roles that are inherent in a Victorian-era setting are fun and help a reader to bond quickly to the driven nature of Lady Trent, making her more likable as a person.

Marie Brennan does an incredible job of writing in multiple voices concurrently. What I mean by this is strewn throughout the novel, the present-day Lady Trent, who is recounting her story into a memoir offers a colorful bit of commentary on the present situation. Brennan expertly maintains the balance that makes this commentary fun and informative, without pulling you from the actual story. It’s a brilliant touch that brings a level of authenticity to the memoir-style.

Personally, I never believed I could want additional illustrations in the books I read. I always feared it would detract from the story, inhibit my imagination, and all around be a bad idea. Much like in Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, which had gorgeous artwork, Marie Brennan and the artist Todd Lockwood prove me wrong by offering stunningly detailed and beautiful art scattered throughout the book. I would find myself pausing my reading, or going back after finishing the chapter, and studying the illustrations. It was as if Todd Lockwood had managed to reach inside my brain and draw with my imagination instead of a brush. Zhagrit Mat

Lady Isabella Trent is famous in her world for her naturalist studies and the contributions she’s made to the scholar community in relation to dragons. Her adventures were many and are hinted at repeatedly through the novel. I’m excited to see what strange lands she visits next and new breeds of dragons wait for her there.

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