5bat! Review: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memior by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

February 9, 2013 Review 9


Cover Art & Illustrations: Todd Lockwood

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memior by Lady Trent

by Marie Brennan

Genre: Historical Fantasy |
Excerpt: Yes | Book Trailer: No
Reviewed by: Julia | Source: Publisher

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; (February 5, 2013
  • ISBN-10: 0765331969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765331960


Near Perfect – Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

Sexual Content

References to sex.


Not a day goes by that the post does not bring me at least one letter from a young person (or sometimes one not so young) who wishes to follow in my footsteps and become a dragon naturalist. Nowadays, of course, the field is quite respectable, with university courses and intellectual societies putting out fat volumes titled Proceedings of some meeting or other. Those interested in respectable things, however, attend my lectures. The ones who write to me invariably want to hear about my adventures: my escape from captivity in the swamps of Mouleen, or my role in the great Battle of Keonga, or (most frequently) my flight to the inhospitable heights of the Mrtyahaima peaks, the only place on earth where the secrets of the ancient world could be unlocked.

Even the most dedicated of letter-writers could not hope to answer all these queries personally. I have therefore accepted the offer from Messrs. Carrigdon & Rudge to publish a series of memoirs, chronicling the more interesting portions of my life. By and large these shall focus on those expeditions which led to the discovery for which I have become so famous, but there shall also be occasional digressions into matters more entertaining, personal, or even (yes) salacious. One benefit of being an old woman now, and moreover one who has been called a “national treasure,” is that there are very few who can tell me what I may and may not write.

Beyond this point, therefore, lie foetid swamps, society gossip, disfiguring diseases, familial conflicts, hostile foreigners, and a plenitude of mud. You, dear reader, continue on at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart — no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments — even at the risk of one’s life — is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. If my humble words convey even a fraction of that wonder, I will rest content.

In this first volume, I will relate to you how my career as a lady adventurer and dragon naturalist began, commencing at the creation of my childhood fascination with all things winged, and for the bulk of its length describing my first foreign expedition, to study the rock-wyrms of Vystrana. Common gossip has made the bare facts well-known, but I warn you, dear reader, that all was not as you have heard.

Isabella, Lady Trent
Casselthwaite, Linshire
11 Iyar, 1895


Just as steampunk rewrites familiar history with technological advancements, A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS takes an oh so familiar historical period and adds a drop of the draconic. Though the place names are different, the flavor of Victorian England and Scotland is strong enough to make this story feel real.

And it was that familiarity that really hooked me. Brennan swirls a touch of fantasy into her world, like rich cream in coffee, but I marveled most at the ways Isabella overcomes the mundane obstacles in her path. Our heroine has no special powers, just a passion for biology. With this inner fire, she navigates the marriage mart and societal pressures, all the while hiding her intelligence and interests under the Clark Kent-guise of silence and small talk. The dragons were a tasty accent to the story, both for their beautiful illustrations and unknown properties. By giving Isabella passion for dragons, rather than elephants or bees or something familiar, Brennan allowed me to discover this species alongside her heroine. The tantalizing hints regarding dragon biology and behavior gave me a window into Isabella’s world, those details inspire echoes of Isabella’s passion and curiosity in myself.

A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS reminded me more of other beloved historical novels, either with a touch of fantasy or without. Isabella is capable and indomitable, yet human, testing her mettle against a world closed tight against her ambitions. Forget genre, this book is a testament to character, to the strength of an outsider defying society’s expectations.



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9 Responses to “5bat! Review: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memior by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan”

  1. Kim D

    I wonder if this is similar to The Magicians and Mrs Quent, or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell? Can’t wait to check it out!

    • Julia

      I’d say yes on both, or maybe even THE HISTORIAN. A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS read like completely mainstream historical fiction, but with dragons.

  2. Jessie

    I love the different varieties of dragons that you find throughout the fantasy genre!

  3. Angela

    I just love dragons. Every single thing about them, from their fierceness, flight, and fire to the personalities that you can find in some fantasies.

  4. Creative Mind

    This book caught my eye on goodreads but I hadn’t realized it’s awesomeness till reading your review!! Now I’ll definately read it!! 🙂

  5. erinf1

    Sounds fantastic! Thanks for sharing! I guess I liked dragons b/c of their mystical nature and how they are so large and strong!

    • Julia

      This may not be the book for you, Erin, as the dragons are largely set dressing to shape Isabella’s world. You may prefer Naomi Novik’s dragons, as they’re characters in their own right.