As a young girl, Isabella was fascinated with scientific pursuits, particularly anatomy. Unfortunately, dissecting pigeons to see how they worked was considered most unladylike and definitely not the way to win the heart of an eligible young man. However, the prospects of a good marriage were not enough to distract Isabella and her interest in winged beings, most particularly dragons, soon occupied her every waking moment. When a chance encounter leads to a most agreeable match, Isabella is sure she will have to conform to society’s expectations and be a ‘good wife’. Yet when the chance of an expedition to Vystrana arises, she will stop at nothing to go and see her precious dragons for real and hang the consequences!
‘A Natural History Of Dragons’ by Marie Brennan is subtitled ‘A Memoir by Lady Trent’ and true to that description the book is written as though it’s an elderly lady writing her memoirs. The tone is spot on and with little asides as to what may happen later and comments on her behaviour as a young lady it makes for a believable and engaging style.
Set in a Victorian-like fantasy world where dragons are commonplace and steamships are the height of fashionable travel, I was quickly drawn into Isabella’s adventures. I enjoyed following this headstrong young woman as she defied expectations and snuck off to read anatomical textbooks. It’s the kind of woman I hope I’d have been if I’d lived under similar circumstances. Her sense of curiosity really comes across and there are lots of little scientific details that make each chapter a joy to read.
The other characters were perhaps a little under-defined but that worked quite well in the memoir style. Most of them seemed to play only a small role in her life and, as she’s writing from some 50 or 60 years distance, it’s only to be expected that not everyone is crystal clear. That’s not to say that the characters are unbelievable. I enjoyed watching some of the relationships develop, particularly between Isabella and her Vystrani Maid, Dagmira, as they overcome language and cultural barriers to form a kind of alliance.
There are plenty of bits of action to keep the story interesting, from explorations of ancient ruins to dragon attacks and even one or two risky encounters with smugglers. I don’t think there’s anything groundbreaking in the plot, but it’s all well told and engaging.
All in all I really enjoyed ‘A Natural History Of Dragons’. Its style was distinctive and told a dragon story from a refreshing new angle. The main character was easy to relate to (she may be more difficult for men to engage with) and I’m looking forward to see how her adventures continue in ‘The Tropic Of Serpents: A Memoir By Lady Trent, the next instalment of Lady Trent’s memoirs.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 334 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3196-0)