A Natural History of Dragons

A Natural History of DragonsMarie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent is unlike anything else I’ve read, and I loved it. The book is written in the style of a Victorian memoir, told in first person by Isabella Hendemore, a young lady fascinated from childhood by dragons. There aren’t many dragons in Scirland, although Isabella, posing as a boy, does manage to insinuate herself into the hunt for a wolfdrake plaguing the neighborhood. On her own, she experiments with sparklings, the tiny relatives of dragons long thought to be insects.

Isabella’s world begins to open wide when her brother takes her to Falchester to see the captive dragons in the King’s menagerie: a Moulish swamp-wyrm, a desert drake from Akhia, and a Vystrani rock-wyrm. Before long, she has found herself a suitable young man and a place with him on an expedition to the mountains of Vystrana to study dragons in their natural habitat.

By the time she tells this story, Isabella is Lady Trent, a mature woman and long-established scientist, dropping hints of what’s to come along the way, but this volume covers only her first expedition, full of adventures, discoveries, and disasters.  Isabella’s world is not an alternate history to ours, it is an alternate world, both familiar and entirely strange.  Isabella’s introduction to the book is dated 11 Floris, 5658, and every chapter brings some new marvel of the not-quite-expected.

Isabella and her party travel from the island nation of Scirland to the mountains of Vystrana, where they stay in a village called Drustanev, run into Stauleren smugglers (the descendants of invaders from Eiverheim stranded there two hundred years previously), and deal with all manner of local personalities and superstitions. And, of course, dragons. Not telepathic dragons, or shape-shifting dragons, or even friendly dragons, but wild dragons, the little understood objects of scientific inquiry.

I had the next volume of Isabella’s adventures, The Tropic of Serpents, on my shelf even before I read Natural History, and when I finishedThe Tropic of Serpents the first one I hurried off to Marie Brennan’s website, where I found the cover of the yet-to-be-published third book, The Voyage of the Basilisk, and the information that Lady Trent’s memoirs will extend to five volumes in all.

In addition to the spectacular cover, A Natural History of Dragons has interior drawings illustrating many of Isabella’s discoveries. It’s a fascinating, wonderful book, and I recommend it highly. I’m looking forward to visiting more parts of Isabella’s world.

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