A Natural History of Dragons: Or Victorian Naturalist Dragon Safari

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan

May I start by saying what a lovely object this book is? Brown type, a quaint synopsis at the start of each chapter, and gorgeous illustrations throughout (I wish there were more!) all make this a beautiful book to interact with. I also read the hardcover which had ruffle-cut pages and was a pleasing weight and size. Very nice. But how about the story itself?

 

This book had more strengths than weaknesses. The characterization of Lady Trent was well done, and her voice was strong and consistent. In fact, the voice is one of the best things about the book. It convincingly portrays Victorian sensibilities without reading like actual literature of the era (read as: this is not long winded, overly concerned with minutia, nor terribly dull). It felt as though an old woman sat down to write her travel log many years later, and when she looks back on things wistfully, or critically, it is endearing rather than clumsy as it very easily could have been. The explorations of being a woman in her time period, as well as her desire to be a naturalist, made for good reading.

 

At its heart this book reads like a Victorian travel log mixed with a mystery. Once you get past the first section, which is a coming of age tale where you learn about naturalism, you follow our heroine on an expedition to a foreign land, and puzzle over the mysteries encountered while there. It does all this quite well. Unfortunately for me I'm not a huge fan of Victorian mysteries nor travel logs, so I found myself somewhat unengaged with the story itself despite enjoying Lady Trent herself. The craft of the writing was such that I kept reading, and never considered abandoning the book, but it was never quite my cup of tea. More dragons and less intrigue might have helped, but I feel it's unfair to judge a book based on what I want it to be rather than what it is. So if you like books of this nature, or enjoy Steampunk, I highly recommend this one. If you're looking for a fast-paced dragon adventure book you might want to keep hunting.