by Marie Brennan

Reviewer Rating:


Against all admonitions not to it was the cover of Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent which first made me judge the book worth reading. Just look at all those tiny numbers pointing to the different parts of the dragon as though they correspond to an actual anatomical index somewhere. I can't imagine a more perfect cover for this delightful gem of a book.

Although it is a fictional story about the title character's adventures in a fictional world (even the names of the months and seasons are made up), A Natural History reads like the memoir of a 19th century upper-class British adventurer. Isabella takes us through the earliest years of her life, describing her first interest in sparklings (small wyvern-like creatures mistaken for insects), her obsession with her father's copy of a different natural history of dragons book, and her first expedition to study the creatures in the frigid and uncomfortable mountains of Vystrana. Sprinkled throughout are hints about her later life as the preeminent dragon naturalist in her world; comments on her class, sex, and society; frank admissions about her own at times stupid behavior; and tips like this one for how to deal with any dragons you meet:

"If you must be the victim of a dragon's extraordinary breath, I recommend the rock-wyrm. Its ice shards are capable of cutting the skin, but not deeply; the chief danger lies in in the body's instinct to curl up tight against the sudden, bone-aching cold. This renders one more vulnerable to the dragon's subsequent dive."

I could barely stop myself from grinning manically and sometimes even laughing out loud with pure glee as I read this book. Although it ends on a more somber note than it begins I can't wait for the next installment of Isabella's life to be published so I can devour it too.

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