All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.
Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.
Where has this book been all this time? How have I not heard of it before? …Those are things I can’t say about A Natural History of Dragons because the book was actually recommended to me several times. I don’t know why I didn’t pick it up before, but I’m glad I finally did.
With a Victorian-inspired setting as the background, we follow Isabella — now a famed natural historian — as she relates her life story, from her childhood “eccentricities” to her first scientific expedition.
Isabella was, for me, a thoroughly enjoyable character even when she wasn’t very sympathetic. She’s a woman of her class and her time, and it shows. What I found interesting is how she chafes against the shackles of propriety and “ladylike” behaviour only when it comes to her passion. Isabella is a dyed-in-the-wool bluestocking but she’s no suffragette. However, the main tension in this first book is about her overcoming the prejudice of her gender. She’s a flawed, well-rounded main character – passionate but subject to tunnel vision, trying to carve out a place for herself in the scientific world despite being a gentlewoman but prone to aristocratic condescension and hauteur.
The story develops slowly, peppered with older-Isabella’s wry and in-hindsight comments. The core plot point is about how dragons are uncharacteristically attacking the Vystrana population, and there are misadventures and twists to “spice things up” but the book follows mostly the sedate and restful pace of a fantasy of manners. Restful does not mean boring; I was addicted to Isabella’s tale and Brennan’s impeccable writing.
This is in good part thanks to the superb narration of Kate Reading. The voice acting was incredibly immersive — Reading was Lady Trent. Brennan’s storytelling skills are highlighted by this format, and I strongly recommend you try it out in this medium if you haven’t read the book yet (or if you are planning a reread). I can feel my 4 next Audible credits going to the rest of the series. I am looking forward to it.