Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

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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.

Written as a fictional memoir, this novel reads delightfully as a natural history rather than as a typical fantasy. Consider it magical fantasy masquerading as magical realism. Isabella is an entirely relatable heroine as she navigates the field of dragon study, a truly unsuitable job for a woman by the standards of society. Her passion is not to be thwarted though as she marries a man quite willing to put up with her “eccentricities”. Perhaps the charm of the novel comes from Isabella’s candidness about her struggles as well as her fascination with knowledge. Her marriage to her husband is of the standard of the time, not really a grade passion, but a happy partnership. Her true love is dragons and she is plunged directly into not only studying them, but solving a mystery of their erratic behavior on her expedition. Willing to admit her mistakes as well as her triumphs, Isabella is genuinely interesting and I look forward to more of her adventures.

4 out of 5

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