Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mini-Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

In order to add context to this review, I feel I must begin by explaining that I am a trained scientist, a lover of the outdoors, and rather fond of traveling. I often look back to a world where large parts truly were ‘undiscovered’ and the adventures of discovery was ever present, and wish that I were there.* Surprising for one with my background, I don’t read much nonfiction, but when I do, it’s often of the scientific discovery sort of variety, and they are often biographies of prominent scientists of the 19th Century. So, given all this, I can say that it’s really no surprise at all that I really, really enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon).

The story is narrated by an aged woman of some notoriety and fame (Lady Trent) – fame for being a scientist no less, and a women scientist at that. She is looking back to the time of her youth and coming of age, when she went on her first big adventure. A time before the world had moved on to a more developed, smaller world – a world where adventures and discoveries were out there to be had and a society where women did not take part in such disgraceful activities.

It is a secondary world, though it absolutely invokes Victorian England and the aristocracy exploring colonial, ‘lesser’ lands. It’s also told in the journalistic style of the times (or at least how we like to think of the times). We could easily be reading about a trek into Africa, or perhaps the far reaches of Central Asia, but in this book there be dragons.

All I can really add is that this story was a pure joy to read. Yes, at times it gets self-indulgent and the pace slows to a crawl, but what journal doesn’t do this? However bad at times things get during the expedition, I can’t help but want to be there myself. To have been one of these early scientists making such groundbreaking discoveries – did I mention there are dragons. That just makes it all so much cooler, because it would be a childhood dream come true to search out and study dragons.

A Natural History of Dragons has been out for a while, and so has its sequel (The Tropic of Serpents) and Voyage of the Basilisk is forthcoming in 2015. It managed to get itself nominated for the World Fantasy Award (not a winner though), and all I can say is that I should have read it sooner. And I can’t read the sequel soon enough.

A Natural History of Dragons (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
The Tropic of Serpents (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Voyage of the Basilisk (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)

*I’m aware that this is a horribly privileged, Western perspective, but I am a product of my society.


Paul Weimer said...

I love the fully rich alternate Victorianesque work Brennan has created in these books. A true marriage of words and art, too.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Wonderful mini-review. I've got to get to this book. I read a tiny bit when I first bought it and knew right away that it would be the kind of book I liked, and your description of it just confirms that many times over.

Neth said...

@Paul - yes, it's really awesome.

@Carl - you should definitely read it. It was a pure joy to read.

Fence said...

If you enjoyed the naturalistic/journaling side of the book maybe you should give Molly Gloss' short story "The Grinnell Method" a try. Its online here :

I really enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons, I thought Lady Trent's voice was just perfect.


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