48. ‘A Natural History of Dragons’ by Marie Brennan

I simply loved this book. It has a badass female lead, a confident writing style, and dragons, for heaven’s sake!

Isabella has been fascinated by animals, particularly dragons, since a very early age. She collects tiny sparklings, dissects birds and does anything she can to learn more about the creatures that fascinate her. But dragon naturalism is not only dangerous, it’s also a highly improper profession for a woman. With so many obstacles standing in her way, will Isabella ever be able to feed her passion for these fascinating animals?

(This is the first book in the series. I have also reviewed all the others: The Tropic of Serpents, Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes and Within the Sanctuary of Wings.)

a natural history of dragons marie brennan

This book is the first in a series, and it is written as a memoir by Isabella (aka Lady Trent) herself, looking back as an older woman at her illustrious career as a dragon naturalist. I loved this perspective, because it means that the narrative voice is mature and has the benefit of hindsight, and this contrasts beautifully with the younger Isabella’s relative lack of confidence. This book focuses on Isabella’s childhood and young adulthood, her formative encounters with dragons, and her first real adventure. Throughout the story the older Lady Trent comments on her younger self’s actions, explaining how she would act differently now. Isabella matures over the course of this first novel, giving us a tantalising glimpse into the woman (and national treasure) she is bound to become.

The writing style is excellent – clever, assured, just the right level of complex, and able to be both funny and serious. It is a little ‘old-fashioned’ in style because the book is set in a Victorian-esque society, and I thought this matched perfectly with the nature of story. Brennan also describes settings beautifully, there are some beautiful drawings of dragons throughout, and the plot is well paced, with excellent dollops of adventure and action. Isabella’s passion shines through and it’s hard not to find it infectious, especially when she’s studying dragons up close and making unprecedented discoveries. There’s also a fantastic amount of world-building incorporated naturally into the story (eg: the different regions and cultures of this fantasy world, the two dominant religions, and so on). All of this adds up to not just a great standalone novel, but a fantastic introduction to a world to which I can’t wait to return.

This book filled a niche I didn’t know was empty in my life: feminist fantasy. Isabella defies expectations throughout and the story is filled with humour, female empowerment and heartwarmingly good intentions. It’s definitely one of my favourite books of the year. You must read it!

“It’s as if there’s a dragon inside me … and I can’t keep her in a cage. She’ll die. I’ll die … I need to see where my wings can carry me.”

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Read my review of the next book in the series, The Tropic of Serpents.

Want to read this? You can buy the book here.

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