Wednesday, 12 April 2017

#CBR9 Book 32: "A Natural History of Dragons" by Marie Brennan

Page count: 335 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Purported to be the first of Lady Isabella Trent's journals, chronicling her life-long exploration of the world and its dragons, this book is a historical novel set in an alternate universe, where dragons obviously exist. I'm unsure of whether the time period in these books would be the Regency or more like Victorian times in our history, but the fictional country that our protagonist, Lady Isabella is from, is clearly modelled on historical England. We follow our heroine from childhood, where we learn how she first became fascinated with dragons.

Later, we see her during her first season, where she meets a fellow dragon enthusiast, and her unorthodox interest actually lands her a husband. She becomes Lady Camhurst and after a personal loss early in their marriage, Isabella and her husband go along on an exploratory mission to Vystrana (a country clearly modelled on somewhere in Eastern Europe) to find out more about rock-wyrms.

Vystrana is fairly miserable place, from Lady Isabella's descriptions, a land of superstitious peasants, who mostly fear the large predators in the area (and rightly so). Apparently, the rock-wyrms have been behaving a lot more erratically and aggressively of late, attacking and injuring, and even killing some of the local populace. The locals are generally quite taciturn and unhelpful, until they come to hope that the foreign expedition may figure out the reason for the dragons' increased hostility and might be able to stop it.

I've heard so many complimentary things about this series, and really, it's historical novels involving dragons! How could they not be awesome? Answer: they focus far too much on the mundane details of Lady Isabella's everyday life, and the sort of social anthropological descriptions of her journey to Vystrana, the local customs, the super cranky locals, the miserable weather, the inadequacy of the lodgings, the poor quality of the food and so forth and so on. Most of the book has little to no dragon action and I thought some parts were incredibly slow and hard to get through.

Lady Isabella herself, Lady Trent as she will become, seems like pretty cool character. Because she apparently narrates these books in her old age, she has very few f*cks to give about other people's opinions and keeps including things that society may find inappropriate or scandalous (sadly, I could happily have done with more of those sections and fewer of her whinging about how miserable she was in Vystrana).

It's rather hard to get a full grasp of most of the other characters in the book, because Lady Isabella really doesn't tell us much about them, although she seems to have made a good match with her husband, who seems a very tolerant and progressive sort of a man, allowing his wife a lot of liberties that society will clearly frown on, because of her passionate interest in dragons.

There are four more books in this series, the final of which is out in only a few weeks. I have several friends who seem very taken with these books and therefore, I suspect I will read more of them, in the hopes of more action and a lot more DRAGONS in future instalments. While beautiful sketches and illustrations of the beasts are all fine and dandy, I want to read more about dragons, and less about sullen villagers.

Judging a book by its cover: As this is suppose to be a publication of the scientific journals of eminent dragonologist, Lady Trent, the cover features an anatomical drawing of a dragon, more specifically one of the rock-wyrms talked about in this volume. The front part of the dragon is drawn with the skin, while the back part and the wings show the muscles and inner workings of the dragon. Various parts are labelled. It's an excellent cover, I just find anatomical drawings of muscles rather creepy, myself.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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