Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

In A Natural History of Dragons Lady Trent tells the story of how she became a dragon naturalist. She explains why she has given herself the mission to study dragons (even though she’s a woman and it wasn’t thought proper to do so) and how her scientific curiosity led her to stand face-to-face with – of course – dangerous, unpredictable dragons. 

A Natural History of Dragons is less about dragons than I expected. Are there dragons? Yes. Are they the focus point of the book? No. For me, this novel was more about a woman’s struggle with starting a career in science in the Victorian era. That her passion happens to be dragons is a happy addition to the story.

What also came as a surprise is that A Natural History of Dragons is more of a detective than an action-filled, dragon-slaying story. The central question that Lady Trent has to answer is why a specific kind of dragons suddenly started to attack humans. I really wanted the answer to this question, more than anything else, and read this book quite fast as a result!

Although the overall mystery about the dragons kept being intriguing, I have to say that the pacing was off sometimes. This book mainly tells the story of Lady Trent’s first expedition. After a while the little village and its inhabitants become predictable and there wasn’t a lot of character development to keep be me very interested in them.

But Lady Trent, or Isabella as we know her in this book, has a strong voice which kept me engaged and the fact that she’s looking back on her own life results in funny comments throughout the novel (in the sense of: ‘How could I’ve been so stupid…,’ which is very relatable). And although this being a memoir also creates some distance, some details aren’t given because Lady Trent doesn’t find them important (we skip years of her life for example), I thought this was an entertaining read. The end especially moved me – be ready for some tears – and I think I’ll read the next book in this series, called The Tropic of Serpents, because I like how Lady Trent’s tells her own story. But, at the moment, I’m not running to the bookstore.

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