Part Fantasy, part science, part memoir. All good.
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan is, well just as the title says, a memoir of the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. An impressive woman who was at the forefront of researching and documenting dragons.
Written by herself in her old age, she recounts what started her obsession with dragons and what lead her down the path to her groundbreaking work. Not only facing opposition from her own family and society but dangerous trials and tribulations along the way.
Since this is a memoir, needless to say we see the protagonist Isabella grow from a child to a young woman. Watching any character development is interesting in its own right, but here it is being written in past tense with Isabella including hindsight. I haven’t read any fictional memoirs before but after reading A Natural History of Dragons I feel like I should read more.
Isabella is a rather interesting protagonist. She has a good head on her shoulders and fiery determination. Her family forces her to play the role she was born to play, the daughter to marry well and become a part of higher society. So she has to hide her true self to fit in. That hit home for me.
She does come across as a bit arrogant but she does get talked down to quite a bit so I can understand why. Still, at times I found her a bit unlikable at times for how she treats others, especially during the expedition.
While this story is set in a Fantasy world where dragons exist but are not well understood, I do think it does borderline with Science Fiction as the study of dragon anatomy is prevalent in the story as well as deductive reasoning and the latest technology. In the later third, there is even a mystery subplot which I really enjoyed although it was clear to see where it was going.
The ending is satisfying enough but you can see where the follow-up book will pick up from. Not inherently a bad thing since it still can be read as a self-contained story but this isn’t the only example of foreshadowing. Namely, well, her name. The title refers to her as Lady Trent which she isn’t known as in this book.
While I did like A Natural History of Dragons it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting since it came highly recommended from another D&D player I had lofty expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good read and one I would recommend to others, but I was expecting a bit more. I think the more interesting parts of her story happen in the later books.
Including A Natural History of Dragons there are five books in the series. I’m not in a rush to continue reading about Isabella’s journey but I can see myself picking up the next volume sometime next year.
If you are looking for a different take on the fantasy genre starring a female protagonist with themes including gender roles, politics and the quest for knowledge then A Natural History of Dragons is the story for you.