Author: Marie Brennan
Publisher: Titan Books
A Natural History of Dragons follows a woman called Isabella, also known as Lady Trent, who wants to study dragons. However, in this Victorian-esque fantasy world, women are expected to marry, bear children and leave all the intellectual pursuits up to men. Isabella has always been fascinated with dragons and science, making her something of an outsider within society. She ends up marrying someone who accepts her bookish interests and agrees to share his library with her. The arrangement suits them both, and eventually Isbella convinces her husband to take her on an expedition to Vystranna, where the group will be studying dragons.
A Natural History of Dragons is so well-written it often felt like I was reading a real nineteenth-century memoir (aside from the dragons and fantastical locations). I was completely immersed in the world because I love anything remotely Victorian. Lady Trent/Isabella is so relatable, with a fantastic voice that makes the book reminiscent of a piece of classic literature; it’s almost like reading a novel by Jane Austen. I loved the way in which the world explored gender issues in relation to science, and I came to love Isabella for her smart, bookish nature and her courage to go against the expectations of society.
The novel is full of mystery and discovery. It’s not a fast paced action story, and this is actually one of the reasons I loved it – it sets itself apart from other fantasy novels. The dragons are more of a backdrop. At its heart, this book is about Lady Trent, her journey and the issues she faces throughout her life. A Natural History of Dragons is such a refreshing fantasy novel and I grew attached to the world and the characters, so much so that an event towards the end really made my gut twist. I can’t wait to read more from Marie Brennan because she’s clearly a talented writer and her world building is incredible.
If you liked The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (which I reviewed here), I think you’ll love A Natural History of Dragons. It contains many similar elements: mystery, hints of the fantastical, an intelligent female character, gender issues and scientific pursuits.