Title: A Natural History of Dragons
Author: Marie Brennan
Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #1
Rating: 2.5 stars
The Overview: All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of 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 discoveries that would change the world forever.
I’ve been stalling on writing this review because I have so many conflicting emotions about it – it has been hard to get my thoughts straight. Up to about a third of the way through the novel, I was certain it was going to be one of my new all-time favorites. Every last element sang to me in a way that only a handful of novels ever have:
- A young girl who dreams of studying dragons in a society that considers that a very unladylike endeavor.
- A memoir narration from this girl many decades later indicating that she broke through all of the societal constraints and is now considered the foremost expert in the field.
- A sweet love story where she meets someone willing to accept and share her passions.
- The promise of adventure as she sets out to study her first specimen at an exotic location.
- And of course, an abundance of dragons!
All of these elements were in line with my personal passions – books, dragons, and nature – and brought them together in a way that made me lose myself within the pages. It was magical!
But, alas, the magic didn’t carry through the entire story. ::sobs::
There were several issues that arose as the novel progressed, and I lament because ALL OF THEM could’ve been avoided with a different outlining strategy/focus on the author’s part.
The major one was the main conflict of the story. In a book about a dragon-nut going on a wild adventure to study dragons in a way never before attempted, I feel strongly that the main conflict SHOULD HAVE REVOLVED AROUND THE DRAGONS. Instead, the dragons remained on the periphery of the story and were only loosely related to what drove 2/3 of the book. It focused on a mystery surrounding a small village, a larger village, some old ruins, a handful of bandits, and some politicking between all of them – none of which had absolutely anything meaningful to do with the dragons and, frankly, could have been easily adjusted to omit the dragons altogether. What an opportunity wasted!!! I’m still agonizing over it.
The second issue was with characterization… particularly that of the main character. She was a bright woman who wanted nothing more than to study dragons. This obsession made her a bit reckless at times when dragons were concerned, which is consistent with her character (and an element I appreciated). What isn’t consistence is how she kept making harebrained decisions when no dragons were involved at all. Stupid stuff. Stuff that leaves you going “no half-intelligent person would do that! What is wrong with this woman?!” It was frustrating, to say the least. The only thing I can figure is that the author orchestrated these odd decisions because she couldn’t figure out another way to advance the plot and get the character from point A to point B any other way. But that’s just me theorizing…
Ugh. Overall, I both fawn and agonize over A Natural History of Dragons, and am really nervous to pick up the second one. I’ll keep in mind that Brennan has the ability to dazzle me and what was done well was done brilliantly enough to give me hope going forward.
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