A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

( 27 )


Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

You, dear reader, continue 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 ...

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Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

You, dear reader, continue 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. . . .

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.

"Saturated with the joy and urgency of discovery and scientific curiosity."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) on A Natural History of Dragons

An NPR Best Book of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Had she had a different personality, being born an aristocrat's daughter in Victorian England might have consigned to Isabella, Lady Trent, to a quiet, upholstered life. Instead, this plucky young adventurer and her husband embarked on a scientific expedition to study dragons in their natural environment. What begins as a lark, however, becomes a mystery, which is rendered beguilingly in this fictitious memoir. Todd Lockwood's elegant illustrations nest perfectly in this story. Editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly
Isabella, Lady Trent, is a naturalist and adventurer in a country that more or less resembles 19th-century England, yet fantastical creatures roam, Judaism appears to be the dominant religion, and Europe once had an ancient Egypt-like civilization. Isabella has been obsessed with studying dragons since childhood, but a formal scientific career is off limits to a woman. Instead she marries a man who shares her passion for natural history and convinces him to let her join his expedition to see the wild dragons of Vystrana. Along the way, Isabella solves a mystery and proves her worth as a naturalist. Brennan’s stand-alone novel (unrelated to her Onyx Court series), written as Isabella’s memoir of her youthful adventures, and beautifully illustrated by Todd Lockwood, is saturated with the joy and urgency of discovery and scientific curiosity. Isabella’s life is genuinely complicated by her scientific leanings, yet she perseveres with perfectly period-accurate spirit and awareness of the risks and costs. Brennan’s world-building is wonderfully subtle, rendering a familiar land alien with casual details. Fans of fantasy, science, and history will adore this rich and absorbing tale of discovery. Agent: Rachel Vater, Folio Literary Management. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
“Her Ladyship is a determined and canny woman in search of dragons—I wholeheartedly approve!”

—Melanie Rawn, bestselling author of Touchstone, on A Natural History of Dragons

“Saturated with the joy and urgency of discovery and scientific curiosity.”Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“If you’ve ever secretly wished dragons were real, this story is for you. Fans of Naomi Novik and Mary Robinette Kowal will especially enjoy this book.”—RT Book Reviews

“Told in the style of a Victorian memoir, courageous, intelligent and determined Isabella’s account is colorful, vigorous and absorbing. A sort of Victorian why-what-whodunit embellished by Brennan’s singular upgrade of a fantasy bromide and revitalizingly different viewpoint.”Kirkus Reviews

"Lady Trent is the Jane Goodall of dragonkind, and I’m glad she’s finally sharing her story with the world."—Jim C. Hines, author of Libriomancer

"A Natural History of Dragons stands somewhere between Naomi Novik and Elizabeth Peters, but rock-solidly in its own world and on its own terms. Highly recommended."—Daniel Fox, author of Dragon in Chains

Kirkus Reviews
New Victorian-feminist fantasy and first of a series, from the author of the Onyx Court tales (With Fate Conspire, 2011, etc.). At a tender age, Isabella, daughter of Sir Daniel Hendemore of Scirland, becomes fascinated by dragons and devotes hours of study to sparklings, tiny flying creatures regarded by most contemporary naturalists as insects. In an age when educating girls in science and philosophy is frowned upon, Isabella finds information hard to come by. Once of age, her father insists she marry; luckily, she finds Jacob Camherst, the son of a rich local baronet, not only handsome and charming, but also passionate about dragons. Jacob is willing to indulge her thirst for knowledge and defy convention--in private. But then Isabella's talents come to the notice of Lord Hilford, a famous naturalist and explorer, who astonishingly consents to her joining the expedition he's currently organizing to Vystrana in search of rock-wyrms. Eastern European–flavored Vystrana is cold, damp, mountainous, primitive and impoverished, and the locals are far from welcoming. Worse, before they even arrive at the remote village where they will sojourn, they're attacked by a dragon! Since Vystrani dragons aren't noted for their bellicosity, overjoyed if rather shaken Isabella resolves to investigate. This isn't the first such attack, the locals reluctantly confide; smugglers operate in the area, and perhaps other nefarious activities occur that the Vystrani refuse to admit. There are clues, however, and nothing daunted, Isabella starts to put them together. Told in the style of a Victorian memoir, courageous, intelligent and determined Isabella's account is colorful, vigorous and absorbing. A sort of Victorian why-what-whodunit embellished by Brennan's singular upgrade of a fantasy bromide and revitalizingly different viewpoint.
RT Book Reviews

If you've ever secretly wished dragons were real, this story is for you. Fans of Naomi Novik and Mary Robinette Kowal will especially enjoy this book.
Melanie Rawn

Her Ladyship is a determined and canny woman in search of dragons--I wholeheartedly approve!
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Isabella, Lady Trent, opens her memoir by warning readers that, "this series will contain frozen mountains, foetid swamps, hostile foreigners, hostile fellow countrymen, the occasional hostile family member, bad decisions, misadventures in orienteering, diseases of an unromantic sort, and a plenitude of mud." Writing in an ornate, Victorian style with painstaking attention to detail (but also a generous leavening of dry, self-deprecating humor), the fictitious "author" describes how her girlhood obsession with dragons led to her career of studying and drawing them and her first foreign expedition to the mountains of Vystrana. Although her story takes place in a fantasy realm, readers familiar with the worlds of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and the like will understand the tropes and norms of high-society Scirland. Similarly, Drustanev, where dragons are supposed to lair, is reminiscent of imperialist Russia, from the geography of snow-capped mountain villages to the depictions of surly peasants and power-hungry boyars. Sketches of the various dragons and dragon-related scenes that Isabella encounters are scattered throughout the narrative. The pen-and-ink documentary style, which echoes textbook illustrations, adds to the atmosphere of scientific reality, which will appeal to fantasy readers and those who enjoy books such as Pierre Dubois's Great Encyclopedia of Faeries (S & S, 2000). The one criticism devoted dragon fans might have is that more attention is paid to establishing Isabella's entry into the world of scientists than to the magical beasts and their behavior.—Evelyn Khoo Schwartz, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765331960
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 2/5/2013
  • Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent Series, #1
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 273,003
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

MARIE BRENNAN habitually pillages her background in anthropology, archaeology, and folklore for fictional purposes. She is the author of the Onyx Court series (Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, A Star Shall Fall, and With Fate Conspire) and the Doppelganger duology (Warrior and Witch), as well as more than thirty short stories.

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Read an Excerpt



When I was seven, I found a sparkling lying dead on a bench at the edge of the woods which formed the back boundary of our garden, that the groundskeeper had not yet cleared away. With much excitement, I brought it for my mother to see, but by the time I reached her it had mostly collapsed into ash in my hands. Mama exclaimed in distaste and sent me to wash.

Our cook, a tall and gangly woman who nonetheless produced the most amazing soups and soufflés (thus putting the lie to the notion that one cannot trust a slender cook) was the one who showed me the secret of preserving sparklings after death. She kept one on her dresser top, which she brought out for me to see when I arrived in her kitchen, much cast down from the loss of the sparkling and from my mother’s chastisement. “However did you keep it?” I asked her, wiping away my tears. “Mine fell all to pieces.”

“Vinegar,” she said, and that one word set me upon the path that led to where I stand today.

If found soon enough after death, a sparkling (as many of the readers of this volume no doubt know) may be preserved by embalming it in vinegar. I sailed forth into our gardens in determined search, a jar of vinegar crammed into one of my dress pockets so the skirt hung all askew. The first one I found lost its right wing in the process of preservation, but before the week was out I had an intact specimen: a sparkling an inch and a half in length, his scales a deep emerald in color. With the boundless ingenuity of a child, I named him Greenie, and he sits on a shelf in my study to this day, tiny wings outspread.

Sparklings were not the only things I collected in those days. I was forever bringing home other insects and beetles (for back then we classified sparklings as an insect species that simply resembled dragons, which today we know to be untrue), and many other things besides: interesting rocks, discarded bird feathers, fragments of eggshell, bones of all kinds. Mama threw fits until I formed a pact with my maid, that she would not breathe a word of my treasures, and I would give her an extra hour a week during which she could sit down and rest her feet. Thereafter my collections hid in cigar boxes and the like, tucked safely into my closets where my mother would not go.

No doubt some of my inclinations came about because I was the sole daughter in a set of six children. Surrounded as I was by boys, and with our house rather isolated in the countryside of Tamshire, I quite believed that collecting odd things was what children did, regardless of sex. My mother’s attempts to educate me otherwise left little mark, I fear. Some of my interest also came from my father, who like any gentleman in those days kept himself moderately informed of developments in all fields: law, theology, economics, natural history, and more.

The remainder of it, I fancy, was inborn curiosity. I would sit in the kitchens (where I was permitted to be, if not encouraged, only because it meant I was not outside getting dirty and ruining my dresses), and ask the cook questions as she stripped a chicken carcass for the soup. “Why do chickens have wishbones?” I asked her one day.

One of the kitchen maids answered me in the fatuous tones of an adult addressing a child. “To make wishes on!” she said brightly, handing me one that had already been dried. “You take one side of it—”

“I know what we do with them,” I said impatiently, cutting her off without much tact. “That’s not what chickens have them for, though, or surely the chicken would have wished not to end up in the pot for our supper.”

“Heavens, child, I don’t know what they grow them for,” the cook said. “But you find them in all kinds of birds—chickens, turkeys, geese, pigeons, and the like.”

The notion that all birds should share this feature was intriguing, something I had never before considered. My curiosity soon drove me to an act which I blush to think upon today, not for the act itself (as I have done similar things many times since then, if in a more meticulous and scholarly fashion), but for the surreptitious and naive manner in which I carried it out.

In my wanderings one day, I found a dove which had fallen dead under a hedgerow. I immediately remembered what the cook had said, that all birds had wishbones. She had not named doves in her list, but doves were birds, were they not? Perhaps I might learn what they were for, as I could not learn when I watched the footman carve up a goose at the dinner table.

I took the dove’s body and hid it behind the hayrick next to the barn, then stole inside and pinched a penknife from Andrew, the brother immediately senior to me, without him knowing. Once outside again, I settled down to my study of the dove.

I was organized, if not perfectly sensible, in my approach to the work. I had seen the maids plucking birds for the cook, so I understood that the first step was to remove the feathers—a task which proved harder than I had expected, and appallingly messy. It did afford me a chance, though, to see how the shaft of the feather fitted into its follicle (a word I did not know at the time), and the different kinds of feathers.

When the bird was more or less naked, I spent some time moving its wings and feet about, seeing how they operated—and, in truth, steeling myself for what I had determined to do next. Eventually curiosity won out over squeamishness, and I took my brother’s penknife, set it against the skin of the bird’s belly, and cut.

The smell was tremendous—in retrospect, I’m sure I perforated the bowel—but my fascination held. I examined the gobbets of flesh that came out, unsure what most of them were, for to me livers and kidneys were things I had only ever seen on a supper plate. I recognized the intestines, however, and made a judicious guess at the lungs and heart. Squeamishness overcome, I continued my work, peeling back the skin, prying away muscles, seeing how it all connected. I uncovered the bones, one by one, marveling at the delicacy of the wings, the wide keel of the sternum.

I had just discovered the wishbone when I heard a shout behind me, and turned to see a stableboy staring at me in horror.

While he bolted off, I began frantically trying to cover my mess, dragging hay over the dismembered body of the dove, but so distressed was I that the main result was to make myself look even worse than before. By the time Mama arrived on the scene, I was covered in blood and bits of dove-flesh, feathers and hay, and more than a few tears.

I will not tax my readers with a detailed description of the treatment I received at that point; the more adventurous among you have no doubt experienced similar chastisement after your own escapades. In the end I found myself in my father’s study, standing clean and shamefaced on his Akhian carpet.

“Isabella,” he said, his voice forbidding, “what possessed you to do such a thing?”

Out it all came, in a flood of words, about the dove I had found (I assured him, over and over again, that it had been dead when I came upon it, that I most certainly had not killed it), and about my curiosity regarding the wishbone—on and on I went, until Papa came forward and knelt before me, putting one hand on my shoulder and stopping me at last.

“You wanted to know how it worked?” he asked.

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak again lest the flood pick up where it had left off.

He sighed. “Your behaviour was not appropriate for a young lady. Do you understand that?” I nodded. “Let’s make certain you remember it, then.” With one hand he turned me about, and with the other he administered three brisk smacks to my bottom that started the tears afresh. When I had myself under control once more, I found that he had left me to compose myself and gone to the wall of his study. The shelves there were lined with books, some, I fancied, weighing as much as I did myself. (This was pure fancy, of course; the weightiest book in my library now, my own De draconum varietatibus, weighs a mere ten pounds.)

The volume he took down was much lighter, if rather thicker than one would normally give to a seven-year-old child. He pressed it into my hands, saying, “Your lady mother would not be happy to see you with this, I imagine, but I had rather you learn it from a book than from experimentation. Run along, now, and don’t show that to her.”

I curtseyed and fled.

Like Greenie, that book still sits on my shelf. My father had given me Gotherham’s Avian Anatomy, and though our understanding of the subject has improved a great deal since Gotherham’s day, it was a good introduction for me at the time. The text was only half comprehensible to me, but I devoured the half I could understand and contemplated the rest in fascinated perplexity. Best of all were the diagrams, thin, meticulous drawings of avian skeletons and musculature. From this book I learned that the function of the wishbone (or, more properly, the furcula) is to strengthen the thoracic skeleton of birds and provide attachment points for wing muscles.

It seemed so simple, so obvious: all birds had wishbones, because all birds flew. (At the time I was not aware of ostriches, and neither was Gotherham.) Hardly a brilliant conclusion in the field of natural history, but to me it was brilliant indeed, and opened up a world I had never considered before: a world in which one could observe patterns and their circumstances, and from these derive information not obvious to the unaided eye.

Wings, truly, were my first obsession. I did not much discriminate in those days as to whether the wings in question belonged to a dove or a sparkling or a butterfly; the point was that these beings flew, and for that I adored them. I might mention, however, that although Mr. Gotherham’s text concerns itself with birds, he does make the occasional, tantalizing reference to analogous structures or behaviours in dragonkind. Since (as I have said before) sparklings were then classed as a variety of insect, this might count as my first introduction to the wonder of dragons.

*   *   *

I should speak at least in passing of my family, for without them I would not have become the woman I am today.

Of my mother I expect you have some sense already; she was an upright and proper woman of her class, and did the best she could to teach me ladylike ways, but no one can achieve the impossible. Any faults in my character must not be laid at her feet. As for my father, his business interests kept him often from home, and so to me he was a more distant figure, and perhaps more tolerant because of it; he had the luxury of seeing my misbehaviours as charming quirks of his daughter’s nature, while my mother faced the messes and ruined clothing those quirks produced. I looked upon him as one might upon a minor pagan god, earnestly desiring his goodwill, but never quite certain how to propitiate him.

Where siblings are concerned, I was the fourth in a set of six children, and, as I have said, the only daughter. Most of my brothers, while of personal significance to me, will not feature much in this tale; their lives have not been much intertwined with my career.

The exception is Andrew, whom I have already mentioned; he is the one from whom I pinched the penknife. He, more than any, was my earnest partner in all the things of which my mother despaired. When Andrew heard of my bloody endeavours behind the hayrick, he was impressed as only an eight-year-old boy can be, and insisted I keep the knife as a trophy of my deeds. That, I no longer have; it deserves a place of honor alongside Greenie and Gotherham, but I lost it in the swamps of Mouleen. Not before it saved my life, however, cutting me free of the vines in which my Labane captors had bound me, and so I am forever grateful to Andrew for the gift.

I am also grateful for his assistance during our childhood years, exercising a boy’s privileges on my behalf. When our father was out of town, Andrew would borrow books out of his study for my use. Texts I myself would never have been permitted thus found their way into my room, where I hid them between the mattresses and behind my wardrobe. My new maid had too great a terror of being found off her feet to agree to the old deal, but she was amenable to sweets, and so we settled on a new arrangement, and I read long into the night on more than one occasion.

The books he took on my behalf, of course, were nearly all of natural history. My horizons expanded from their winged beginnings to creatures of all kinds: mammals and fish, insects and reptiles, plants of a hundred sorts, for in those days our knowledge was still general enough that one person might be expected to familiarize himself (or in my case, herself ) with the entire field.

Some of the books mentioned dragons. They never did so in more than passing asides, brief paragraphs that did little more than develop my appetite for information. In several places, however, I came across references to a particular work: Sir Richard Edgeworth’s A Natural History of Dragons. Carrigdon & Rudge were soon to be reprinting it, as I learned from their autumn catalogue; I risked a great deal by sneaking into my father’s study so as to leave that pamphlet open to the page announcing the reprint. It described A Natural History of Dragons as “the most indispensable reference on dragonkind available in our tongue”; surely that would be enough to entice my father’s eye.

My gamble paid off, for it was in the next delivery of books we received. I could not have it right away—Andrew would not borrow anything our father had yet to read—and I nearly went mad with waiting. Early in winter, though, Andrew passed me the book in a corridor, saying, “He finished it yesterday. Don’t let anyone see you with it.”

I was on my way to the parlor for my weekly lesson on the pianoforte, and if I went back up to my room I would be late. Instead I hurried onward, and concealed the book under a cushion mere heartbeats before my teacher entered. I gave him my best curtsy, and thereafter struggled mightily not to look toward the divan, from which I could feel the unread book taunting me. (I would say my playing suffered from the distraction, but it is difficult for something so dire to grow worse. Although I appreciate music, to this day I could not carry a tune if you tied it around my wrist for safekeeping.)

Once I escaped from my lesson, I began in on the book straightaway, and hardly paused except to hide it when necessary. I imagine it is not so well-known today as it was then, having been supplanted by other, more complete works, so it may be difficult for my readers to imagine how wondrous it seemed to me at the time. Edgeworth’s identifying criteria for “true dragons” were a useful starting point for many of us, and his listing of qualifying species is all the more impressive for having been assembled through correspondence with missionaries and traders, rather than through firsthand observation. He also addressed the issue of “lesser dragonkind,” namely, those creatures such as wyverns which failed one criterion or another, yet appeared (by the theories of the period) to be branches of the same family tree.

The influence this book had upon me may be expressed by saying that I read it straight through four times, for once was certainly not enough. Just as some girl-children of that age go mad for horses and equestrian pursuits, so did I become dragon-mad. That phrase described me well, for it led not only to the premier focus of my adult life (which has included more than a few actions here and there that might be deemed deranged), but more directly to the action I engaged in shortly after my fourteenth birthday.


Copyright © 2013 by Bryn Neuenschwander

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 27 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2013

    More Darwin than Dragons

    Stop right now. If you're looking for Pern or Temeraire, then this book is not going to scratch that itch. The dragons in Lady Isabella Trent's world are natural creatures, and they are treated as such by both the character and the author.

    If, however, you enjoy snarky old ladies commenting on the adventures (mis- and otherwise) of their youth, if you get a kick out of cryptozoology, if you love nature documentaries, anthropology, and mannered romances of the 19th century, if you wish you could have gone along on Darwin's voyage of the Beagle, if you think Wallace was shafted on the whole evolution issue due to class prejudice and structural inequality... then this book with thrill and delight you.

    It's right there in the title. A _Natural History_ of Dragons. Brennan doesn't disappoint on that front. She builds a convincing secondary world -- a good choice, as it frees her from the constraints of fitting her dragons in around the cracks of actual history and biological classification--where exists an entire... hm... I think it would be Family in taxonomic terms... of reptilian creatures, some of which fit a set of characteristics marking them as dragons.

    She shows us this world through the eyes of Lady Isabella Trent, and Lady Isabella shows us _her_ world through her memoirs documenting her first forays into naturalism.

    This double-voiced narrative is perhaps the strongest part of this book (alongside the excellent portrayal of scientific study and the challenges of fieldwork). Brennan draws the reader into the gap between younger Isabella's adventures and older Isabella's wisdom and regrets, and there is just as much emotional weight in what Isabella doesn't tell us as there is in what she does say.

    This weight comes to bear most prominently in the portrayal of the relationship between Isabella and her husband, Jacob. I love the fieldwork elements and Isabella's voice, but I think the complexity and depth of emotion explored in this non-standard romance is the heart of the book as much as Isabella's curiosity and passion for studying dragons is.

    The only 'flaw' I can really call out is more a flaw of Isabella's personality than it is mis-step by Brennan. Isabella can be extremely clinical, and she approaches people and relationships much the same as she does dragons (but without the same passion). This impersonal, analytical perspective pervades the book, and it means I sometimes didn't form much of an attachment to secondary characters as I would have liked. There are several characters I think I _would_ care more about if I could see them through someone else's eyes, but Isabella's emotional detachment and lack of interest in the interiority of the people around her meant that I never really got the chance to care for them (with the exception of her husband).

    Overall, a strong book, a brilliant and engaging character, fun with dragons, and SCIENCE!

    Also, check out that cover! I want _all_ the Todd Lockwood art.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2013

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the memoir aspect, the story

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the memoir aspect, the storyline, the illustrations (though few but very well done) and the way the whole entire book was put together made this a very intriguing book to read through.

    What Brennan has created here is a story that will captivate and keep you entranced all the way through till the action packed ending.

    I loved the fact that although this book is fiction it's written in the way of a memoir, the life of Isabella a rambunctious and wilful child who discovered her first Dragon at a young age which then started her obsession with discovering the workings  (both inner and outer) of the species.
    Starting with her early childhood and working her way through to her early twenties her fascination with Dragons never diminishes and sets her off on an expedition to Drustanev to assist in researching them.
    And whilst I did have some trouble in pronouncing a lot of the names and places ( a section at the back of the book dealing with the pronounciations would have been helpful), the world building that occurs throughout with these imaginary places takes you to faraway places a journey that will enchant you.
    The illustrations were gorgeous and as I said at the start of my review I definitely would have loved more, they help the imagination more in picturing the Dragons and having an idea of just what the author is describing.

    The chapters were another interesting addition to the book, the way that at the start of each  there is a description of sorts on what will occur in the following chapter, I found this was a part of the book I was looking forward too, knowing what's coming but not getting exact detail either.

    I hope that this is going to be the first book in a series, I can imagine that Isabella has a huge amount of adventures that she still has to share, I will definitely pick up any further books that may be released of the memoirs of this headstrong and sometimes opinionated heroine.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2013

    Does not disappoint

    This book is a lot of fun to read. The author takes a preposterous premise of living dragons and makes a completely wonderful story with action, adventure and romance. I have been waiting a month to read it and now feel frustrated because more stories of Lady Trent should be coming. Waiting Again!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2013

    This a unique take on dragons as living creatures. It's reads ho

    This a unique take on dragons as living creatures. It's reads how I imagine naturalists from the 1800s wrote about their adventures and studies of the natural world they were exploring esp. expeditions into Africa or S. America. I also appreciate how the author brings out the limits that society placed upon women of that time and how frustrating it was for a woman whose interests were broader than those limits

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2013

    This book

    I am a fan of dragons and fantasy so i thought i would give it a try it was a little slow but it was still very well writen

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2013

    Great first

    I heard about this on youtube and decided to give it a shot. I am not usually one for dragons but thought the victorian memoir aspect would be enjoyable. I loved all parts and encourage you to give it a try even if you are not big into fantasy. I hope there will be more books

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2013

    This novel is like a hot cup of tea on a cold, dreary day. It's

    This novel is like a hot cup of tea on a cold, dreary day. It's not a shot of espresso to wake you up in the morning, not a cup of chamomile to lull you to sleep at night. It's both exciting and relaxing, showing off Brennan's major research chops and adeptness with voice.

    A Natural History of Dragons has a strong vein of proto-feminism and a realistic romance founded on intellectual pursuits and genuine affection developed over time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2013


    One of the best heroines in years AND DRAGONS. I want dozens of sequels!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013


    Very well written, but the character is so selfish in every way that I could not really enjoy the book. I know we are supposeyd to find her intriguingly quirky and a wonderfully strong willed female character, but I find her to be utterly self-centered and inappropriate for her time and place.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Here's the thing about A Natural History of Dragons: it's a youn

    Here's the thing about A Natural History of Dragons: it's a young adult crossover; it can be classified as either adult fantasy or young adult fantasy and it would fit right in. Honestly, it's what I think the new adult genre could be: a story where somebody has come of age and knows who they are and is now struggling with what to do with that.

    And it was good.

    There's a few little things, of course, that matter in the long run. The book, divided into several mini-Books, let its pacing slow considerably after book two, and that is in part to the focus on non-dragon related activities. (I do wish that dragons had been featured more in the book, but I loved how they were handled when they were there.)

    It's also told in a biographical style, meaning it has the tone of an older woman reflecting on her younger stuff -- lots of heavy foreshadowing on what will occur, mentions of other adventures, and reflections on the fact that she made some stupid decisions. A lot of people don't like that kind of style, but I found that it worked rather well for this story.

    And that leads me to the most important point:

    I, Nicole, am in love with Isabella Trent.

    Not the romantic kind of love, of course, but the kind of love that you find in a kindred spirit; it's as if the character was written for me. With the exception of her being much more scientific than I am, I understood her and loved her and her story. Her excitement was mine, her discoveries mine, her pain, her love.

    Needless to say, I love this book because of her character. Her own obsession with dragons, of course, is tied inherently to my own, but I loved everything about her: her humour, her intelligence, and how she refused to be trapped within the box of her time. Even her taste in husband - who I also adored - was impeccable.

    I liked the setting as well -- the alternate world to ours suited me quite well, though I know there have been complaints about renaming everything. Why not just do it AU-style, like His Majesty's Dragon? But I understood it well enough, so I didn't mind. This, of course, could also have to do with my blind love for Isabella; I highly suggest reading The Book Smuggler's review of this on Kirkus for a more objective opinion.

    But as far as I'm concerned - oh, I loved it, and yes, I will be reading it - or at least the first two-thirds! - again.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2013


    A well written start to what I imagine is going to be great adventure series. Please keep writng and I will keep reading!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 12, 2013

    My thoughts: I've been interested in dragon stories since I was

    My thoughts: I've been interested in dragon stories since I was a kid & my mum would pretend we were looking for dragons in the woods. As soon as I saw the cover for this book, I knew it was something I wanted to read, and the back-cover description (above) convinced me for sure. I'm delighted to say I was not disappointed. Marie Brennan has written the book as the memoirs of Isabella, Lady Trent, and I thought that gave it a unique, distinct voice. It starts with Isabella as a young girl, explaining how she became interested in dragons, and some of her childhood scrapes relating to them. She grows up over the first half of the story, then embarks on the first expedition of what will turn into a career.
    The historical feel of the story is interesting - it feels like 1800s England, maybe - a place where women  stay in the home, taking care of their husbands, and definitely don't go galavanting across the continent chasing something as shockingly dangerous as a dragon. I love the adventures Isabella has growing up. They seemed very realistic, and I like the way it was told, with grown-Isabella almost shaking her head at her younger self as she recounts what happened. I felt like I was right there with her wishing for a way that she would be able to pursue her interest in dragons.

    The second half of the story takes place when Isabella is recently married - along with a few others, she goes on an expedition abroad to the mountains in search of dragons to study. While the travellers adjust to life in a rural foreign village, and try to find the dragons they have come to see, they are also trying to solve the mystery of what has become of the man who is meant to be their host. I liked how the various strands of the plot mixed together. Nothing seemed rushed, or unbelievable but it definitely wasn't boring - I found myself thinking "just another chapter" as I tried to put the book away to get some sleep!
    As well as the lovely cover, there are other illustrations inside which helped bring the story to life - Isabella sketches, and it was fun to see what the dragons looked like. My favourite is when Isabella and her companions are examining a dead dragon, trying to work out things like how it flies.
    A lovely foray into the world of the dragon naturalist, Marie Brennan's 'A Natural History of Dragons', the memoirs of Lady Trent, is a delightful combination of fantasy and historical, with an interesting narration style.
    I can't wait to read the sequel! I give this book 9 stars.
     [e-arc provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review. Review originally posted by me at The Book Bundle.]

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2015

    I was so excited to start this. I've been eyeing on the Book Out

    I was so excited to start this. I've been eyeing on the Book Outlet for so long and when they finally had that Black Friday sale, I went for it. It was the cover that drew me firstly then the book description. This was not like any book that I have ever read and I wanted to read it. 

    " This is not what I signed up for. I wasn't thinking when I bought this, nor was I giving any thought about the memoir part, because it reads as one. I'm bored out of my mind!" When I updated that, I was indeed bored out my mind. I really didn't care for Lady Trent's young childhood, even though I knew it was important to the story. To be honest, I thought it was going to step right into action or somewhat close to it. 

    "Bored out of my mind! That little scene did nothing for me. I'm going to pick up another book." Seeing how, I don't remember what happened at this scene, because I'm too lazy to go upstairs to retrieve the book and found out what it was. Oh never mind, I remember what scene it was. Yeah, that scene really didn't do anything for, again, I do understand why it was needed for the story.

    "Okay, I lied. I didn't pick up a new book. It's getting good now." Indeed it was. The story moved two years or so the future when she's at the age of seventeen and was doing the whole Season thing on finding a husband. I got so much second hand embarrassment because Isabella when she and her brother attended the King's Menagerie. That's where she meets her husband Jacob Camherst, 23, who doesn't plan on getting married anytime soon, but once he heard her talk about dragons, it was over, he had to have her. I instantly was drawn to him, I don't know why, it has to be his personality, how he can't just say no to his wife.

    So much happened between 55 pages that made me so engrossed with this book that I couldn't put it down. I felt for Isabella after she had miscarriage and was a little upset that Jacob moved to a separate room, but I guess I can understand why he did it. Isabella was depressed after her lost of course, but her love for dragons brought her out of it. She meets Lord Hilford at an event for Jacob's younger brother, because he was looking for a wife. She likes Hilford a lot because he loves and studies dragons, so she and Jacob be friends him. Isabella is a cunningly little thing and planted a see in Hilford head to have Jacob go with to an expedition to Vystrani to find out what's going on with the dragons. Remember when I said Jacob couldn't say no to Isabella? Can you guess what she asked him? She wanted to go as well, that's why she planted the seed. 

    Along with Jacob, Hilford and Isabella, Hilford's accountant I think, I'm most likely wrong about what he is, Tom Wilker, also goes to Vystrani, to a small village called Drustanev. There was drama for the start; a dragon attack, the town people didn't want them there. It was a lot, but at the same time it was a little boring, but again, I have to remind myself that this was a memoir, and some memoirs do have boring parts. It was instersting to say the least. 

    I'm going to skip a lot of parts, because I may give things away, but if you read this, you know a certain scene that happened at the end of the book, tore me up inside. I threw my book away from, I just couldn't deal. 

    I wish I had bought the second book as well, I didn't know I was going to enjoy it so much. It did take me a while to get use to the whole set up of the book, but I do love the writing style and how it was written. The illustrations are beautiful and the whole natural history of dragons was exceptional. For a moment I thought everything in this was real, it was informative and well explained instead of thrown together.

    Now I'm going to buy the second book and wait for the third to come out. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2014

    I 3 ½ Stars for Unfulfilled Promise n A Natural History of Drag

    3 ½ Stars for Unfulfilled Promise

    n A Natural History of Dragons, dragons are the focus of the characters, but are on the periphery of the action.  The book is actually a memoir of the first 19 years of Isabella, Lady Trent.  An engrossing read at first, the plot loses steam as it lumbers laboriously toward its end.  

    The narrator of this story is the heroine as an old lady, and she is a spellbinder—so much so that that her adventurous younger self is callow, and headstrong.  Young Isabella is a constant danger to herself and others, in marked contrast to her considerable intellectual capacity.  Her foolhardy behavior is not endearing since the consequences of her actions are as draconian as the subjects of her study.  The settings are so reminiscent of 19th –century Great Britain and Russia (including a tsar and his boyars) that it’s not quite a fantastical universe—only the dragons are unusual to us.  Her engineered marriage is not quite romantic, the adventure is not quite adventurous, and the humor is not quite. . . you get it.  It’s a shame because the writing is excellent.  But the characters are curiously flat.  If you like the far superior Amanda Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, you might like this.  

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2014


    Brennan has clearly done her research into the history of women in science. While Isabella, Lady Trent lives in a AU world shifted orthogonally from ours, she is also very clearly a nineteenth century British Lady Scientist in the tradition of Mary Anning, Mary Kirby, Hertha Ayrton or Margaret Huggins (well the last was Irish but I can't resist listing an astronomer). It was an era when a woman could not be a scientist without a doting, indulgent father and/or husband. Our fictional Lady Trent is fortunate to have both. She is so REAL and alive, and it's just simply thrilling to have how hard women have had to fight to become scientists brought to life for a general audience.

    How far we have come is painted in living breathing colors: Isabella is a young girl stiffled to live in a grey world, denying everything she is, until she is fortunate enough to have a loving father that stears her towards potential husbands that may allow her to follow her passion for Natural History - in particular the study of Dragons. She is not a modern girl placed in the ninteenth century, she understands and in most ways accepts the limitations society places on her, she feels distress at chaffing at its bindings - but her joy at doing the science she loves outweighs all the dissapproval. I would completely believe I was reading the biography of Mary Anning had her dragons been alive instead of only bones in the ground (and had Anning been upper class). This is a lovely book and a fabulous adventure story that I would recommend for all.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 18, 2014

    So glad I founds this! What marvelous fun! I love the main char

    So glad I founds this!
    What marvelous fun! I love the main character. She is a pip starting as a little girl.
    Her adventures, both young and older, are wonderful.
    I look forward to reading more of her memoirs.

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    Posted April 21, 2014

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    Posted October 6, 2013

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    Posted March 25, 2015

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    Posted February 28, 2013

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