CBR BINGO: Monster, because there be dragons in here!
First of all, I love this image on the cover. The idea of a naturalist who studies dragons is appealing to me, as someone who a) enjoys naturalist memoirs and b) enjoys fantasy. The marriage of science and fantasy appeals to my nature, and I was very excited to read this book. And, I enjoyed it. But I didn’t love it as I hoped.
A Natural History of Dragons is the first installment in the memoirs of Lady Trent, renowned naturalist and dragon expert. We see young Isabella from her childhood, as a well-read “tom boy” who disguises herself as a boy so she can join the hunt for wolf-drake, with near-disastrous results. After a scolding from her father, she resigns herself to a dragon-less life, for “No gentleman would want a wife covered in scars from misadventures. No gentleman would take a woman who would be a disgrace to him. No gentleman would marry me, if I kept on this way.”
Fortunately for Isabella, she meets an eligible bachelor who is not only an acceptable match, but a lover of science as well. The dashing Jacob Camherst is interested in the unconventional Isabella, precisely because she is interested in his love of dragons rather than his money. It’s a match made in heaven!
At this point, Isabella’s goal is a modest one: Marry a man who has a library and at least doesn’t mind if she reads. But soon after marrying Jacob, she realizes this isn’t going to be enough. She nudges him towards a dragon-studying expedition and then expresses her wish to go with him.
I found many things delightful about this book: a strong, inquisitive female character, the natural history angle, the lovely illustrations. I enjoyed the parallels the author draws between the dragon expedition and traditional British exploits. The researchers enter a foreign land and take over the place, well-meaning and yet lacking regard for the people who actually live among the wild beasts. Marie Brennan has definitely hit on a formula for success.
So why was I slightly underwhelmed? One could understand how a reader might be disappointed that there were so few dragons in a book titled A Natural History of Dragons. For me, perhaps it just didn’t hit the right emotional notes. I would be willing to give a couple more books in the series a try to see whether the characters develop more. For all her good points, Isabella can be condescending and a trifle entitled, especially in regards to the woman who serves as her “maid” on the expedition. But, she is learning and I think the journey may take her to good places.