Monday, December 28, 2015

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Reviewed by Ambrea
Isabella, Lady Trent, is famous the world over as a dragon naturalist.  She has helped bring the study of dragons to the forefront of modern science, uncovering startling new truths about these enigmatic and, more often, frightening creatures, and she has explored the world from Scirland to Eriga and beyond.  However, very little is known about the illustrious Lady Trent—until now.  In her own words, she describes her childhood in her father’s library, her budding interest in dragons and natural history, and, later, her expedition to Vystrana where she makes her first discoveries that would forever change how the world viewed dragons.

I will say so now:  dragons hold a special place in my heart.  Like Isabella, I’ve always loved dragons—from reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini to The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, or my more recent encounter with Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina or Uprooted by Naomi Novik—and I have a suspicion that I always will.  So, as you might expect, I absolutely adored A Natural History of Dragons.

Finely crafted and thoroughly “researched,” Marie Brennan’s novel is a thrilling (and enjoyable) beginning to a new series.  I especially loved Brennan’s attention to detail in her Natural History of Dragons.  Brennan is careful to craft her characters—and dragons—with believable qualities, making them seem unexpectedly real.  She makes the existence of dragons seem like a possibility.  Like smart, adventurous Isabella could truly exist outside of these pages.

And speaking of Isabella, I adored her character.

As a scientist, Isabella makes insightful observations and carefully documents the facts as she knows them—and, more importantly, as she looks back, she’s careful to inform her readers of her new knowledge without giving away too much or killing the suspense of the novel.  She has a thoroughness that makes it easy to become immersed in her world, whether she’s living in her native Scirland or adventuring in Vystrana.  She has such a unique voice, alternating between a young lady first making historic discoveries and an old woman reminiscing about her past, that it actually feels like a memoir.

Although Isabella is a scientist, her narrative isn’t bulky or unwieldy or weighed down.  She doesn’t make readers wade through scientific gibberish or unfortunately long anecdotes about the history of dragons, she doesn’t over inform readers; rather, she explains without inundating her readers or intimidating them.  She allows you to join her in her discoveries without getting bogged down—and her intelligence and sharp wit shines through her work.  It makes her account of Vystrana that much more enjoyable.

And if I’m being honest, I absolutely loved the illustrations included in Isabella’s account.  It gave her “memoir” a genuine feeling, like a field book or a diary, and it gave a face to the characters—as well as the dragons—that I came to know and love, and it made them that much more memorable and tangible for me.  Her illustrations rounded out an already exquisite book, making A Natural History of Dragons a book (and a series) that I’ll be sure to add to my collection in the future.

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