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A Natural History of Dragons by Marie…
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A Natural History of Dragons

by Marie Brennan

Other authors: Rhys Davies (Maps), Todd Lockwood (Illustrator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Lady Trent's Memoirs (1)

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Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
I've gotten a lot of recommendation for this series - mostly in the form of "Ooh! There's a new Lady Trent out!" Finally got around to reading it myself, and I agree. This is a great story, in a fascinating style. I enjoy the language - it's an interesting form. And the fact that's written as an older woman writing about herself at nineteen makes it extra fun - I love the asides to reader and editor. The world is amazing - I'm not sure of the map (it doesn't seem to quite correspond to ours, leaving aside the different names) but the assortment of cultures, and the attitudes of the various peoples toward each other, make a fascinating background. And then there's the dragons... The mystery here is nicely done, too, as a driver and complication to their dragon studies. And again, it's written as an older woman - Lady Trent keeps referring to later developments in the studies of dragons ("Recall that we knew very little about dragons in those days..."), which makes me eager to read the rest of the series. Very neat concept, well-developed. Next, please! ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Jun 4, 2017 |
I've had my eye on this for some time and for a number of reasons, but despite the delay in my reading there's no denying the praise and esteem it has garnered from the start. The 'Lady Trent' of the title must be a close fit or at least parallel of author Bryn Neuenschwander (who writes under the Marie Brennan nom de plume): her background in anthropology, archaeology and folklore overlaps that of the fictional writer of this memoir. Certainly that same passion and expertise comes through strongly in the text of this fantasy, not failing to enthuse the sympathetic reader. And dragons: what heart can't beat a little bit faster on reading this word?

Isabella Hendemore lives in Scirland, an island in a fantasy world which is strongly reminiscent of Victorian Britain in its nomenclature, customs and culture; elsewhere in this world are equivalents of other lands and cultures, such as Tsarist Russia. A key difference is of course the existence of dragons, the study of which is strangely neglected in this world. This lack is a challenge to the young woman, whose ambition is to remedy it with expeditions to unexplored areas where such creatures exist. In this she is like a composite of male scientists such as Charles Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace and women explorers like Mary Kingsley, all active in our own thrusting, confident, imperialist 19th century. In one respect, then, A Natural History of Dragons is the equivalent of the travelogue of a Victorian female who daringly goes against the era's restrictive conventions concerning young ladies -- to stay at home, be a helpmeet, indulge in artistic and musical dilettantism.

Lest you think this might be a starchy parody or pastiche, it isn't. It's a thumping good read; yes, one flavoured by such accounts but nevertheless drawing you on with seat-of-the-pants action and good characterisation. For modern sensibilities there are hints of steampunk in amongst the cliffhangers, mysteries amidst the pretend biology, death visited on some of the variant stereotypes, and green issues to counter both international politics and greed-inspired industrialisation.

Isabella, her young husband and expedition leader Lord Hilford travel from their home in Scirland to the mountains of Vystrana to study rock-wyrms. In the isolated village of Drustanev they set up the expedition base. Here, as well as natural distrust from the villagers, they discover the process of investigating the dragons is not as straightforward as might be hoped, mainly owing to -- as it were -- a worm in the bud: the machinations of corrupt officials. And, Isabella being Isabella, seems to initiate or be the catalyst for much of the action -- as well as, in many ways, the solution.
This is a fantastic novel, the first of a sequence of books and so bringing with it the promise of more enjoyment to come. First person narrator Isabella Camherst (née Hendemore, later to be Lady Trent) is an intrepid individual whom it's nigh impossible to dislike; the narrative itself slips almost seamlessly from matter-of-fact to daring escapade and back again; and given that this world is not our own it still contains believable terrains, credible societies and the sense of a back history even if this last is rarely stated.

For fantasy lovers there is the added attraction of maps -- lacking scale, it's true, but with enough detail to orientate oneself -- and notebook sketches of dragons such as a Sparkling, Wolf-drake, Akhian Desert Drake and Vystrani Rock-wyrm. (Rhys Davies and Todd Lockwood, respectively, are responsible for these.) For linguophiles like me many of the terms, place-names and dialect words are a delight. (Just one example: the village of Drustanev is a closet allusion to part of the legend of Tristan and Isolde -- Drustan, a Dark Age version of the name Tristan, fought a fearsome battle with an Irish dragon, cutting out its tongue as proof of success before being overcome by exhaustion.)

And for lovers of authors such as Austen and the Brontës this is a commentary on both the typical Austen comedy of manners and the archetypal Brontë heroine breaking out from society's mould. This fantasy is, however, more than just the sum of its parts; it's a real tribute to the skill of its talented author in creating a strange yet familiar world.

http://wp.me/s2oNj1-history ( )
1 vote ed.pendragon | May 6, 2017 |
While an interesting exercise I just didn't find this quite as enjoyable as I hoped. Why you might ask? Even though the introduction of our imaginary lady scientist did catch my imagination I found my interest fading the more I got into it and I was reminded that Elizabeth Bear's "Karen Memory" also fell a little short for me; even though this is a good faux 19th-century memoir maybe I'm just not that interested in faux 19th-century memoirs. As always, your mileage may differ. Also, I don't apologize for defining this book as SF as opposed to fantasy, in that it felt to me more like alternative history than a secondary-world fantasy. ( )
  Shrike58 | Mar 27, 2017 |
Told in its heroine Isabella’s voice, the language of this novel is perfectly pitched to suggest a broadly Victorian setting, in which young gentlewomen certainly do not practice dissection, read scientific books about dragons or get themselves into awkward situations with wild wolf-drakes. Looking back from her later years – in which she has become a well-known dragon naturalist – Isabella remembers her stubborn independence as a young girl and the books, pilfered from her father’s library, which helped to create her obsession with dragons. Beginning with the tiny Sparklings which live wild in the woods, her interest rapidly grows in scale until, as a young woman, she finds herself in the royal menagerie with her brother. Here she meets an eligible young man called Jacob Camherst, who is not only a catch on the marriage-mart but, more importantly, also interested in dragons.

It is, if not love, then at least fellow-feeling at first sight; and love follows. Isabella’s marriage blesses her with a husband willing to indulge her decidedly unconventional interests. Taking advantage of this, she manages to inveigle their way onto an expedition led by the explorer-naturalist Lord Hilford, to the mountains of distant Vystrana. Here Isabella will have her first encounter with true dragons, in a land of forests, chasms, smugglers, corrupt boyars, suspicious villagers and more intellectual satisfaction than she has ever known before. But it will all come at a tragic price…

For the full review, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2017/03/08/a-natural-history-of-dragons-marie-brennan/ ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Mar 9, 2017 |
Genteel fun in a wonderfully faux-Victorian way. It's actually written in a style that I generally dislike - including the silly chapter sub-headings -, but the author's skill manages to make it shine in a way very few others have. It's the retrospective memoirs of the invented, but in her world now (in)famous Lady Trent. It opens with her as a young girl, in a proper landed family, discovering her joy in amateur biology and the science of Natural History. Such things weren't proper for a young lady of course, but in the countryside they do things differently, and her father aided her convenience around the most correct manners.

Isabel's attraction started with Sparkling's thought to be a type of insect, and her interest was resurrected after her marriage as a discreet hobby. Most of the latter half of the book is then an account of an expedition she manages to inveigle her away upon. It is to an alternate eastern europe by the geography, high mountain karst, peppered with small villages, hidden caves and a complex feudal political situation. But also populated by dragons, and it is these that the company have come to study.

Of course a story about the natural history of dragons would probably become dry quite quickly, and this isn't. Mostly it's about the made-up politics of the region and how the small group of informal scientists discover enough about the goings on to provide assistance. In the style of many Victorian explorers they had neither the local language, nor any understanding of the culture, and instead came burdened with expectations that as they came from a richer country they'd be able to do as they liked. Isabel's sly asides as to how her attitudes have changed, and her accounts of 'proper' scientific practise made this far more enjoyable than I've managed to describe.

Great fun. I'm not sure how much more of this the series will stand, as a technique could pale quite quickly, but it was very engaging writing. ( )
3 vote reading_fox | Jan 23, 2017 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marie Brennanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davies, RhysMapssecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lockwood, ToddIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Collins, GregDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lockwood, ToddCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reading, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Preface

Not a day goes by that the post does not bring me at least one letter from a young person (or sometimes one not so young) who wishes to follow in my footsteps and become a dragon naturalist.
One

When I was seven, I found a sparkling lying dead on a bench at the edge of the woods which formed the back boundary of our garden, that the groundskeeper had not yet cleared away.
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I had just discovered the wishbone when I heard a shout behind me, and turned to see a stableboy staring at me in horror.

While he bolted off, I began frantically trying to cover my mess, dragging hay over the disembodied body of the dove, but so distressed was I that the main result was to make myself look even worse than before. By the time Mama arrived on the scene, I was covered in blood and bits of dove-flesh, feathers and hay, and more than a few tears.
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Isabella, Lady Trent, known as the world's preeminent dragon naturalist, writes her memoir detailing 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 dragon discoveries that would change the world forever.… (more)

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