Sunday, 24 January 2016

Review || A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons (Memoir by Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan ★★★★☆
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.

Oh holy smokes, I adored this. If you like fantasy-of-manners ala Gail Carriger's Soulless you should probably add this to you TBR immediately.

The writing is charming, the character voice strong and the world delightful--because even though this feels like Victorian England, it's tried and true fantasy. But enough so that newer readers to the genre won't be too put off by the learning curve. The world feels very familiar, and if you've read any historical fiction taking place in the 19th century you'll feel right at home with this one.

Isabella is an absolute delight as well. Narrating some of the exploits of her younger self, she often addresses the reader directly--sometimes to fantastic comedic effect. (She dares you to challenge her on the inclusion of some details that wouldn't be brought up in polite company and it is darling.) It also has the added benefit of being tantalizing foreshadowing sometimes.

Isabella is reckless, headstrong and determined to make more of herself than is expected of a woman of her time. And let me tell you, I am all about women defying societal propriety and expectation in order to strike out and discover something great. I love those kinds of stories, and this one did not disappoint.

That said, as other reviewers have mentioned, this ends up focusing less on the dragons and more of the memoir part of the title. Which I didn't mind at all, but I understand why some might be disappointed. Still, the dragons do feature, and I expect there will be much more of them in future books as well--which I can't wait to read!

If any of this sounds even remotely appealing, I'd definitely recommend picking this up. You're in for fantastic characters, enthusiastic discussions of science! and quite possibly a lot of capital-f Feelings about parts of that ending if you're anything like me.