Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent
Author: Marie Brennan
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: 5th February 2013
Rating: 3 out of 5

Description: 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 a chronicle of Lady Trent’s first expedition into the study of dragons. In this memoir, Lady Isabella Trent recounts in a strong confident voice her adventures in Vystrana and how they shaped her into the famous dragon naturalist. The memoir starts with her childhood and how various misadventures in her youth led to a lifetime of curiosity about dragon kind.  Right from the start, Isabella is a fleshed out character. From her youngest memories you can see the curiosity and intelligence this women possesses. As Isabella grows up, her curiosity and desire for knowledge continue to be an essential character trait. 

The historical setting of the book is very reminiscent of the Victorian era. The land of Scirland seems to be based on olden day England. It was a time where women were frowned upon for wanting to learn more than was needed. It was a very male dominated society. It was interesting to see Lady Trent’s thoughts on society at the time as she reflects on her naive nature.  Marie Brennan weaves a realistic story about a young girl achieving her wildest dreams, in a society that disapproves of women practicing science.  One of the best parts of the book was learning how Lady Trent overcomes societies conventions to become a naturalist.

The majority of this memoir is about Isabella’s journey and her experience in Vystrana. The world was well built with lots of intricate details. Just like the historical setting of Scirland, Vystrana was also well described from the people, to their tradition, beliefs and climate. This book boasts of being one filled with adventure and risks. However it didn’t live up to my expectation. Based on the description and title I had expected there to be more dragons present in the story. All though there are glimpses of dragons throughout the story, the plot focused more on village politics, smuggling activities and the religious practices of those native to Vystrana. The book was also set at a slower pace and was not as action packed as I had expected it.

Lady Trent had a confident voice and I liked the subtle humor she possessed. Isabella was blunt, with a tendency to act before thinking. A very headstrong character who got her self into very dangerous situations. Her husband was a very progressive gentleman, who complemented Isabella greatly. The romance presented is also very subtle and you can see their love grow from friendship.  Her companion, Lord Hilford reminded me of a lovable scruffy grandfather. One of the other problems I had was that, even though the characters were fleshed out I was not engaged with these characters, nor was I invested in their story. I didn’t care about what happened to them. Because of not being able to connect with the characters, I found that parts of this book boring, as they didn't hold my interest.

This book also has some gorgeous illustration by Todd Lockwood, showing sketches of dragons and landscapes. They helped fill in the details of the world presented by Brennen.

Despite the slower pace and lack of action, A Natural History of Dragons has a great history setting and a great voice. If you like historical fiction with elements of fantasy woven in, then this book might just be for you.


  1. Pity, it sounded like it had so much potential not realized. Being a dragon nut, I almost jumped out of my skin when I saw your post. i would have down loaded it if you had given it a more glowing review.

    1. I'm a dragon nut as well. If you want to read a good dragon book, then I highly suggest Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.