A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan, is the first book in a series set in what I would call an alternate world. Based on our earth, undeniably, History of Dragons sees a world of cultures reminiscent of our Victorian era. The proof of this is the lead character of the book, which is written in the form of a memoir. The lead character of History of Dragons is Isabella, Lady of Trent. Now an old woman, History of Dragons begins at – of course – the beginning of her life, when she took an interest in dragons.
In History of Dragons, dragons are real creatures. The book does not go into anything as interesting as speaking dragons or dragon riders, however. The dragons in this book are merely animals which Isabella, the daughter of a Scirling gentleman, takes an interest in as a young child. This interest leads her throughout the years of her early life and, eventually, into what will be her first expedition to study dragons across her world.
Scirland, Isabella’s home country, is most definitely based on Victorian England. The rest of the world’s setting is harder to figure out, mainly because the maps at the start of the book are very poorly drawn. Nevertheless, I found the book to be an engaging form of light entertainment. Although I prefer speaking dragons and dragon riders when reading about – well, dragons – I enjoyed this book because of the Victorian flavor with which Miss Brennan imbued it.
My only real quibbles with the book were its sad ending and the continuous mention of people of this world’s “insatiable” desire for machines, which was leading to wars over iron as iron deposits worldwide began to run out.
The sad ending I will not bring up, since that would spoil the story. All I will say about it is that I would have found another way to end it, had I been this book’s author. As for the needling about wars over depleting iron deposits, that was clearly a treatise to the stop-wars-over-oil people.
I am not one of those people, since I believe wars start over greed for control, not of oil or iron, but of people. So this author’s constant bewailing of humanity’s “desire” for machines – a la oil – rubbed me the wrong way.
These annoyances aside, the book is engaging and will fill a lazy summer afternoon (or five) quite nicely. Isabella has her moments, many of them, and the dragons are worth reading about. I do not feel inclined to follow the series, but we will have to see what the future holds in that regard.
The Mithril Guardian