Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Natural History of Dragons

A Natural History of Dragons. Marie Brennan. 2013. Tor Books. Pages: 334. [Source: bought]

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, knows 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.

...a gust of shockingly cold air pulled at my sleeves, and ice stung my face. Wondering if we were in danger of hail, I looked up.
 I have little recollection of the next several seconds. Just a moment of frozen staring, and then – with no transition – my voice shrieking "Get down!" as I wrapped my arms around my husband and dragged him forward, off the wagon bench.


~~~

Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭

(Warning! This post contains spoilers! I couldn't help myself!)

This is another book that has been sitting on my shelf for over a year, waiting for my to get through whatever books I have been reading so I could pick it up with a clear conscience (there's nothing like guilt from having too many books on the go at once to ruin the experiance of a perfectly good book).

I really wished I hadn't waited so long to get to this! It was so good, and definitely not the kind of book I should have picked up when I was supposed to be writing a research paper on C.S. Lewis!

This novel is totally unique, and so satisfactory that when I finished it this afternoon I felt a longing to continue reading about Lady Trent's life and exploits. (I can't just go order the next instalment of the series since it chocks up to being over $30 Canadian for the hardcovers, unfortunately, and I'm collecting them in hardcovers because they're so pretty. So I'll have to wait, blah).

I have never before have read a novel that was purposefully written so that it read like a memoir. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would when I cracked it open, but I wondered how the story would fare since – well... memoir + fiction? It's volatile stuff.

But it worked so perfectly for this story, and I could hardly tear my eyes away from the pages in order to write my paper!

The story opens in Lady Trent's youth, when she was young, seven year old Miss Isabella Hendemore. She went out to play one day and found a small, dragon-shaped creature lying in the grass, dead. When she tried to take it home with her, it disintegrated in her hands – later the family cook would teach her how to properly preserve one in vinegar, and when young Isabella manages to jar an intact specimen, she names it 'Greenie', after its colour.

That was the moment her dragon fever, of a sorts, was born. It continued to drive her crazy until she was involved in an incident that forced her to conform to society – until she entered into her "season", the period of every young lady of high standing's life where they have to parade around until they met a man of high standing and they come to an agreement.

Isabella, faced with a lifetime of having her interests an intelligence stifled by the society-driven assumptions of the man she may one day call her husband, agrees to go with her brother to the king's menagerie, and it is there she meets her husband: Jacob Camherst.

It isn't long after they're married that they set off on an adventure into the mountains of Vystrana, where the rest of the story unfolds.

I fell in love with all of the characters, and the form of storytelling. I love Isabella and Jacob, and Mr. Wilker reminds me of Rodney McKay from Stargate: Atlantis (same sarcastic, high-strung kind of guy).

There are a few swear words, but nothing harsher than what I've heard my mother say when she's in a right royal mood (which is rare, and since we're Christian, it's nothing above a Parental Guidance).

At the beginning, when Isabella married Jacob, I wondered why his last name was 'Camherst' and not 'Trent', since Isabella is known as 'Lady Trent' in the future and not 'Lady Camherst'. I distinctly remember thinking, He's going to die, isn't he?

Now, if you've ignored my initial warning about spoilers, I'm afraid I've spoiled some of the story for you already. But I'm going to warn you again – stop reading if you haven't read A Natural History of Dragons yet! I'm going to be discussing the end past this point and I don't want to ruin it for you!

Anyway, now that that's out of the way...

Well, my hunch ended up turning out to be right. Jacob died, and that quite upset me. I liked Jacob! I didn't want Jacob to die! And because of where he died, he couldn't even be buried at home where Isabella could visit him regularly. It kind of reminds me of how Grandpa's grave is in BC, all alone.

The dragons in the story were quite impressive, and I was mildly reminded of How to Train Your Dragon while I read. In a good way.

I love the distinction of the world in this story. Usually, in fantasy, the society and world in the story is distinctly medieval. In this novel, the world is set at a technology level comparable to what we were at from 1812 to 1900 – there were steamboats, but according to Lady Trent there were yet to be railways and steam engines, yet there were steamboats – though I think they were comparable to the ones with the large paddle-wheels on their sides instead of ones of the Titanic's caliber.

I love the illustrations in this book – there're so lifelike! One was creepy in a few aspects, the one depicting Zhagrit Mat, sent shivers up and down my spine. I half expected Zhagrit Mat to come leaping out somewhere in the story since, well, it's a fantasy! Anything could happen in a fantasy! That amped up the tension because so much was happening. It was delightful!

The story world of A Natural History of Dragons is one I would love to daydream about, and I honestly can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Tropic of Serpents. Maybe I can get my hands on it before I come back to college...

Ah! I love it when I come across a good book!

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