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A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan Not a terrible book, but disappointing nonetheless after the promising title, the academic female lead and the convincing pseudo-Victorian style. It's not that the novel is poorly written - far from it - it's just that it's downright predictable and unexciting 90% of the time. I don't know if it's just that the Austen-esque style doesn't lend itself to gripping adventure tales of dragons or what, but there was a distinctly unhurried and relaxed feel to the narrative that failed to build up any tension for me whatsoever. The Lady Trent pretty much takes everything in stride and is prone to repetitive digressions that allude to what sound to be more exciting chapters of her life sadly not covered in this volume. Couple that with the fact that for a natural history OF dragons, dragons appear all too infrequently, I finished the book feeling rather deflated.

This could be a great series opener however, establishing a firm beachhead in a new world with strong correlations to our own. Set in what would be our 19th century, the world of Dragons is in the midst of an industrial revolution with more daring and advanced civilizations like the Scirlings (British) colonizing less advanced nations and fighting with rivals for geopolitical control and control of key resources like iron. Being a historian of the 19th century, I found the setting a compelling one for a story about natural historians. The 19th century was the great era of the categorization of knowledge with the birth of natural societies throughout Europe as gentlemen of means took up the amateur rage of scientific "discovery" by visiting sections of the world newly opened to them by conquest and technology. Historically, there were a great many adventurous women glossed over by the annals of history that I've always found quite fascinating from this time period (like Mary Anning and Ada Lovelace), who had their works either appropriated or published for them by men on their behalf and here I thought the Lady Trent would be able to break through that historic mold and limitation, finally giving women that academic equality and freedom they so richly deserved in our world and were denied. Maybe my expectations were altogether too high. While there is some vindication for women in this world of dragons, their paragon alternates between being a "respectable scientist" and an "overwrought emotional woman needing the assistance of her husband." Don't get me wrong, I liked her husband a great deal, but I was kind of unimpressed with Lady Trent.

Still, if I had a daughter.... I'd definitely put this novel in her hands. I'd probably make sure she read Hermione first though. I think that this novel is best appreciated with a more than thorough knowledge of the academic environs of the 19th century. There are a lot of historical nods that would go unappreciated without one. If you're up for doing some background work, I highly recommend Bill Bryson's [b:A Short History of Nearly Everything|21|A Short History of Nearly Everything|Bill Bryson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320540603s/21.jpg|2305997]. Don't worry, you don't have to read the whole thing. Just read the bit on the Age of Exploration and you'll be in a better position to appreciate the work and detail Marie Brennan has put into this piece.