Aug 27

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons

A Natural History of Dragons (Memoir by Lady Trent, #1)A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Just when I think I’m tired of fantasy, something like this comes along and blows me away with its fresh new look. How can you make a book about dragons feel different? How can you make another too-literate young lady of breeding in a Victorianesque England-ish country seem different? And yet, Brennan accomplishes these feats.
I did like the Victorian feel of this book. I could practically picture leather cases and pith helmets and brass fittings. Unlike many authors, Brennan takes “a lady’s role in society” seriously, and while the gender and class restrictions are eventually overcome, they do pose significant obstacles. Lady Trent, too, doesn’t feel like a modern woman putting on a bustle and calling it a day, she shares the same opinions as her contemporaries, which is refreshingly authentic feeling.

I say English-ish because this is a completely invented world, though the cultures resemble European cultures enough to feel familiar. The second thing I really liked about this book was part three, in which they are in the Slavic-village clone. Her relationships with the villagers, with her maid, and with the other members of her party felt genuine and complex. They’re not just simple peasants who live to serve, they have their own culture, their own issues. Even the religiosity felt realistic.

Ironically, my least favorite part of this was the dragons. Some of the natural history was amazing, like skin with pores that open and close, and bones that feel very light yet are strong. Other parts, like how they manage to breathe ice, didn’t fit right with me, and made me stick my fingers in my ear and say la la la la science fantasy.

If you follow my reviews, you know I almost never give out five star reviews, but this book really knocked it out of the park. Without giving spoilers, I even liked the ending, because she didn’t take the easy way out.

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