Exploring genres with A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

I generally read ‘literary’ or historical fiction, and I’ve wanted to reach out into more genre fiction for a while. While browsing in Waterstones a few weeks ago I wandered with my boyfriend up to the sci fi/fantasy section, and came across the Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan.  Lady Trent is a ‘dragon naturalist’ and the series is made up of several volumes of her memoirs, starting with A Natural History of Dragons. The series is set in an alternate Victorian universe where, in the first novel at least, a young Lady Trent battles against gender norms and social stereotypes. The book is essentially a Victorian adventure, with a bit of romance thrown in, plus some dragons – which it turns out works for me.

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2014 Titan Books edition

Lady Trent, still just Isabella in the first novel, wants to learn about dragons but this isn’t considered ‘suitable’ for young ladies; she tries to suppress her passion but reads about dragons in secret and is eventually encouraged by her father. She fulfils her duty of finding a husband, Jacob Camherst, who luckily shares her passion. The bulk of the story follows them on an expedition to Vystrana with some colleagues to study dragons. They get embroiled in a mystery, local politics, smuggling, and local religion, and while some of the story is a little over the top, it is an enjoyable romp with some great characters. Isabella is an entertaining narrator, though her wisdom-through-hindsight sometimes overshadows the excitement of the events in the story. However I still loved it and got wrapped up in the study of dragons and the mystery of their out-of-character attacks on humans. Isabella has a genuine passion for their work, and I admired her defiance of conventions and determination to be useful and get involved in the adventure. The story is a lot of fun and is very engaging – I read quickly, desperate to know what would happen next. Happily I wasn’t able to guess the ending, which is always a good thing,

In fact I enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons so much that today I went to Waterstones and bought the next book in the series, The Tropic of Serpents. Hopefully it will be just as good! I’m glad I branched out with this book, and think I may read more fantasy like this in the future. This is partly because I feel like reading something a bit different, and also because the two books I read before this were both about life during World War Two, both of which were brilliant but not exactly cheery. I’ve enjoyed the escapism of Lady Trent and look forward to more Victorian dragon romps.

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Published in 2014 by Titan Books.

Available from Wordery and Foyles.

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