A Natural History of Dragons: A memoir of Lady Trent by: Marie Brennan

This is Topper, of Topper’s Books, guest posting today for the wonderful Ensis. Be not afraid of missing out on Ensis’ work for my own, however!  Head on over to my blog to read his guest post on a childhood staple. 

On to the book! Unlike valiant Ensis, I decided to stick with my own style but I will make a small addition, in honor of the occasion.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Why I picked up the book:  It has an awesome diagram of a dragon on it, complete with labelled muscles and bones.  A science and fantasy lover such as myself could not pass up such an opportunity!

All in all, I rather liked this book.  It’s set in a fantasy world that much resembles the 1800s, except dragons are present.  The narrator, admirable Lady Trent, hails from a country much like Victorian England, complete with high society, of which she is a member.  The book is Trent’s memoirs, looking back on how she became the world’s most famous and knowledgeable dragon expert.  Specifically, this book includes her childhood, her teenage years, and her first dragon expedition.  (I spoiled about 2 pages of suspense there for you; sorry.)

I loved Lady Trent.  She’s a practical, determined, adventurous woman.  I like that young Lady Trent has to live within the realities of her society; she doesn’t just throw everything to the wind to break convention.  Rather, she does what she can to pursue her interest without becoming an outcast.  It frustrates me to read a book where the solution for restrictive women’s roles is to throw everything to the wind and not acknowledge the difficulties of living outside of society.  Here, the characters not only acknowledge the reality of the situation but they talk about the trade-offs of choosing to ignore societal conventions before making any decisions.  Fantastic!

Old Lady Trent shines throughout the book.  She talks about her blindness as a young adult; for instance, her assumptions about other cultures and herself as a person and how they falsely colored her understanding of many of her experiences is touched upon frequently.  She constantly refers to things that happened in the future with just enough allusion and detail to whet the reader’s curiosity.  (Brennan looks fond of series, so I’m expecting sequels in the future.)

Trent is neither overly hotheaded nor prone to flights of emotion.  Hers is a scientific mind, with a focus on finding answers to questions that sometimes rather coldly excludes emotions.  The book is told in first person but has almost no focus on her emotions and personal development.  Rather, it’s primarily a story of her actions and adventures and secondarily a story of her emotions and reactions.

Which rather neatly brings me to the plot line.  It’s well-paced, though rather intensely focused on Trent’s interactions with dragons.  As much as I liked Trent, I would have liked a little more focus on non-dragon related tales. Other things get touched upon but quickly dismissed.  The lens of dragon research is rather narrow, yet frames nearly the entirety of the reader’s knowledge of the characters.  I think that a little more attention could have been paid to the emotional landscape of the characters without sacrificing the tone of the story.

The dragons themselves are fascinating; not much is known about them, which adds to the excitement of the scientific discoveries.  Brennan adds enough of a subplot to keep the book from becoming all about dragons, which would be rather tedious.  The book is also exciting – there are dragons and smugglers and nefarious get-wealthy-at-the-expense-of-others ploys afoot. There’s danger and excitement almost at every turn, and enough of a respite in between adventures to allow for a coherent plotline.

If you like daring adventures, dragons, fantasies and realistic characters than this is the book for you! If you’re into books that focus as much on characters as actions, on emotions and adventures, than this may not be the book for you.


2 thoughts on “A Natural History of Dragons: A memoir of Lady Trent by: Marie Brennan

  1. I want to say a big thank you to Topper for taking the time to write such a great review and for choosing a great book to do it on!

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