Review – A Natural History of Dragons

Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie BrennanA Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan
Review from April 12th, 2013

It took me a while to get round to finishing reading this, even once I was a decent way into it and knew I wanted to finish it. It’s a slow sort of book, one I suspect you will either get on with or not based on the narrator and setting. The idea is of a Victorian-era analogue in which dragons exist, and in which one young woman has the opportunity of a lifetime to go and study dragons scientifically after having obsessed over them all her life. The conceit is that it’s narrated by her in the form of memoirs, in a very Victorian sort of style.

It’s fascinating in its attempts to place a female character realistically in a society that is a Victorian analogue and have her still free enough to have this sort of story happen to her without it sounding far fetched — it mostly works, I think. Unfortunately it’s also pretty slow, and relatively uneventful when compared to so many other dragon books. I did get into it (or rather, back into it) eventually, but I can see it won’t be to everyone’s taste. I did, after all, also love Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

The illustrations are, by the way, perfect. I spent quite a while examining each one in detail. And the world built up around this story is both frustrating in its close and quite naked similarities to ours and tantalising in details that aren’t comparable, or at least instantly placeable.

Rating: 3/5

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11 thoughts on “Review – A Natural History of Dragons

  1. I borrowed this from my local library and I think I got almost half way through before I had to DNF it. I really wanted to like it, and I’m still surprised I didn’t; I quite like slow books and I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of dragons – I don’t dislike them, I’ve just never been a dragon person – but I loved that this book was taking a more scientific approach, especially with a female lead. And yet I just couldn’t get into it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Lady Trent’s narrative voice and all of the characters around her felt more like caricatures than people. I think the biggest problem for me was that I was really hoping for an alternate history book. I wanted it to be set in Victorian society, just with dragons (kind of like Temeraire, I guess) – for whatever reason I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy worlds heavily based on ours. I always think they might as well just be ours.

    Anyway that’s my boring rant over with. 😉 I may give this book another try in future, because I’ve heard people say the series improves!

    • I wasn’t the biggest fan of this first book, but I’ve since read the second and I’m halfway through the third, and I love them. It might help that I knew what to expect from reading the first book and lowering my expectations accordingly, though.

  2. I really enjoy this series, mostly because of the very different way it treats dragons. And the books aren’t even really about the dragons, which really should have grated me, but I was just so fascinated with all the other aspects of Isabella’s life and this world.

  3. For some reason, I was certain this would be a fictional non-fiction, if you get my meaning.

    The plotline sounds fairly experimental. It sounds much more daring than any other fantasy novel. Fantasy novels always have the ‘researchers’ who follow heroes, but here’s a novel where the researcher is the central character!

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