A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
|A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: This dragon-based series opener only gets more conviction through its brilliant portrayal of its Victorian-styled pioneer lady scientist.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: February 2014|
|Publisher: Titan Books|
We could all wish for a little of Lady Trent in ourselves. It's obvious what she feels she has inside her, for ever since she was a young girl she ignored society and decorum and was interested in science, nature, and the discovery of all that was unknown about dragons. She even went on a hunt for wolf-drakes, disguised as a male, and that's a species that prefers female prey. But as renowned a pioneer as she is, she has never told anyone in such detail of her life stories, starting with this one – a journey to the cold, mountainous land of Vystrana, which successfully uncovered a lot of the truth about dragons – but also a lot that was much harder to explain…
It seems surprising that fantasy hasn't gone down this route often enough – the scientific quest. Oh it's alright to have copious people plodding around known lands, interacting with the known, but what came before then – the explorers, the people new to such lands as where be dragons? Add to that the blunt, matter-of-fact style of the Victorian diarist and you have a sterling and compelling work, that brings the old (dragon lore) to us in a new/old way (Victoriana fantasy) and gives us a completely new story (all these brilliant pages).
Isabella is a brilliant creation. The ageing explorer, revisiting her past with the knowledge of the old, still has a great immediacy in putting us in her world, whether it be the grand dame of dragon science, flouncing around in trousers of all things, or the scientific genius seeing society through struggling eyes. It's clearly Victorian – but yet isn't, however much Scirland sounds like it might be where Scotland is, and however much Vystrana might be Bulgaria, or perhaps Georgia when some Russian-styled names crop up. The months are wilfully oddly named, and we're immediately informed this is written in the year 5658.
What our author has thankfully avoided doing with this exemplary world-building is making parallels to our own existence. Yes, she borrows some very Earth-bound words here and there, but this narrative isn't supposed to equate to Victorian imperialism, or Victorian sexual politics, or suchlike. When those things are there they're dressing, not forced metaphor. As such this isn't designed to be anything other than a grand narrative of the fantastical, and it certainly is a fantastic one. The voice of the storyteller, the whole world scene, and the whole intelligent plot (minus that which is too guessable) are all reminders of what I enjoy most about only the best in fantasy. It's a compelling book, with the authority of a great writer, and it's the start of what surely will be a wonderful series.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
We also have a review of Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent (A Natural History of Dragons 3) by Marie Brennan.
In journalese, this works as a cross between such as The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth by Mackenzie Crook and a less ribald work by Jesse Bullington.
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You can read more book reviews or buy A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan at Amazon.com.
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan is in the Top Ten Fantasy Novels of 2014.
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