I first came across A Natural History of Dragons on Susana’s blog A Bag Full of Stories (if you don’t already follow Susana’s blog, please do give her a follow 😊) my interest immediately piqued by that lovely cover, and, well, dragons, to be perfectly honest!
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…
From Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, Isabella, Lady Trent, is known 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 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 and natural history 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 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 written as a memoir, the first of those of Isabella, or Lady Trent, and allows the reader to see her as a child, first stumbling across Sparklings – smaller, more common relatives of dragon (and much easier to handle!) – and her earliest misadventures. It is written in a formal style, and carries the tone and language one might expect from a Victorian lady. I loved the style in which it’s told, and I enjoyed the way in which Isabella, now older, wiser, and vastly more experienced, was able to look back on her youth with both pride but also moments of embarrassment at her youthful antics. It is an honest account, highlighting both good times and bad. Dotted throughout the novel are drawings sketched by Isabella on her adventures which I loved, and that I thought gave it a little something extra, bringing the narrative to life.
If the tone of the novel evokes the Victorian era, so too does the setting. It’s set in a fictional world, rather than our own with added wildlife, and is richly imagined. It has a feel similar to our own in terms of the technology at the time, as well as the nature of society, with women considered to be frail beings not needing much by way of an education. This becomes another hurdle for Isabella to overcome, it being considered unseemly for women to study natural history (of any creature, never mind dragons) or to travel anywhere beyond civilisation. As you might have guessed, she is more than up to this challenge. One thing I particularly liked in this novel is that she had people around her that were sympathetic to her nature. Her mother is entirely against her being anything other than a prim and proper young woman, but her father respects and, if not openly encourages her tendencies, at least makes it possible for her to continue in her early studies. Her husband too, respects this element of her nature, and doesn’t try to crush it. I thought that Brennan did this very well and without it seeming to be patronising of Isabella – they aren’t indulging her, or letting her act upon her whims, rather, they assist her in making her dragon-fuelled dreams become a reality.
The story starts slowly as the reader gets to know a young Isabella and sees her develop from child to young woman, allowing the reader to understand the tenacity of the protagonist, as well as her cleverness and impulsive nature. As she heads out on her first expedition, the pace speeds up, and the story went in quite an unexpected direction. There are dragons, adventure, the politics of travelling to a foreign country, and several hairy moments. Needless to say, I loved every minute of it. It’s a great story, and one that had so much more to it than I expected. I can’t wait to read the next memoir of Lady Trent, The Tropic of Serpents.
A Natural History of Dragons is published by Titan Books, and is the first in a series of five featuring Lady Trent’s memoirs.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐