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Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

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Illustration by Todd LockwoodIsabella is obsessed with dragons. Her tomboyish antics and unwavering determination lead to a life full of them.

At the age of seven, when most good little girls stuff rose petals into a jar, Isabella collects little miniature dragons called Sparklings and preserves them in vinegar. She loves books about avian anatomy and when she discovers a book called “A Natural History of Dragons” her life changes forever.

The author’s love of books, science and dragons shines brightly through this novel (unfortunately so does the author’s love of parentheses. If you can ignore this tick, it’s worth the bother. I promise).

Isabella lives in a world where dragons are real but aren’t a suitable interest for fine young ladies, thank you very much. Her stubbornness and obsessive interest lead her to break the mold and to pursue her dream regardless of what might be thought proper.

The atmosphere is a blend of Downton Abbey, Pern and A Series of Unfortunate Events. The eclectic mixture works and it’s easy to imagine dragon boffinry and petticoats being discussed at a high society dinner in Scirling.

Todd Lockwood’s beautiful illustrations are peppered throughout the book and are a real treat to dragon enthusiasts. And as Isabella’s journey takes her to Vystrana in the role of an illustrator, they support the story beautifully, too.

A Natural History of Dragons treats the common fantasy trope of dragons in a unique way – and that’s quite an achievement in itself. You find yourself wishing that it would be possible to attend Lady Trent’s lectures and listen to her stories in person.

Isabella comes across as a strange mixture of one of Anne McCaffrey’s strong female characters and the clumsy Bella from Twilight. One of the most engaging elements of the fictitious author is her determination to succeed in a field that, in her world, is strictly off limits to women.

The only problem with this novel (apart from the parentheses) is the difficulty with the fictional memoir format itself. The reader is constantly jolted back from the younger Isabella’ thoughts when the older Isabella feels the need to butt in and explain something. Furthermore, being only in Isabella’s head prevents the reader from really getting much more than a passing glance of the other potentially interesting characters.

Nevertheless, the endearing geekery of the narrator, the mystery element to the story and the occasional glimpses of dragons keep you hooked enough. It’s an enjoyable read and I would particularly recommend it to teenagers who, besides enjoying the story, might even be inspired enough to take up natural sciences. This book could have been called “How to Dissect Your Dragon.”

The novel is published on the 5th of February 2013.

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About Nukapai

I learned to write before I could read and my first story was published when I was only 9 years old. I'm interested in a range of topics - particularly in science fiction, fantasy, horror, illustration, cosmetics industry, consumer psychology, marketing and perfumery. I keep a personal blog at http://www.volatilefiction.co.uk
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