All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know 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.
Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.
At long last, I bring you a book that’s actually good.
It took us a while, but we got there.
A Natural History Dragons is a fun, adventurous, and occasionally sad story of Isabella and her intriguing foray into the world of dragon naturalism.
I admit I was a bit nervous when I first started reading it. Not because I didn’t think the plot would be interesting or I wouldn’t like the author’s writing style, but I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Isabella herself. Normally, in stories about women rising above societal conventions (especially in recent years) they try to beat you over the head with the Not Like Other Girls trope. Basically they condemn any traditionally feminine practices and dismiss them as vapid or unimportant.
Fortunately, Isabella doesn’t do that. She more of less shrugs and admits most traditional roles aren’t for her and moves on. The book doesn’t beat you over the head about Isabella being the bestest most smartest person evar, she is just herself and I enjoyed her.
I love how lived-in the world feels even though I don’t care for the names of the countries. While the societies are easily recognizable as our own, it does take place in an entirely fictional, fantasy-light world. In fact, they are so recognizable I don’t know why the writer didn’t just set the story in a fictional version of early 19th century England/Czechoslovakia and do a sort of alt-history type thing. Maybe she just didn’t want to offend anyone? Regardless, even if the names of the countries weren’t that great, I did enjoy the realness of the settings and how it genuinely felt like I was reading a memoir written by an actual person.
The science of the dragons is intriguing as well. I’ll admit, before reading this novel, I never questioned how a creature like a dragon would be able to fly if they existed in real life. I don’t know much about the physics of flight so I like how much thought was put into explaining how it might be possible. Again, I’m not an aerospace engineer or naturalist of avian creatures, but it seemed plausible to me.
Learning alongside Isabella is an exciting experience and we, as readers, can understand why Isabella is so willing to go the distance to discover more even though it’s incredibly dangerous for her to do so.
The passion for learning in this book is so strong it makes me want to learn more about naturalism in the real 19th century. This is one of my favorite time periods but I don’t know that much about the scientists that lived in this era apart from the scant pieces of info I picked up in my public school education. When I think about naturalists from the early 19th century, all I can think about is Archimedes Q Porter from Tarzan.
If I have to offer any critique (apart from the lazy names of the countries), I would say the more tragic elements of the story were sort of glossed over. I understand it’s to keep the pacing from being bogged down (it is a naturalistic adventure story, after all) but the scenes weren’t always given enough time to breathe.
Another complaint that I have involves the politics of Drustanev. It wasn’t preachy, nor do I think it was meant to serve any parallel with what was happening in the real world at the time (this was published in 2013), but I didn’t find them particularly interesting in the grand scheme of things. I know, I know, some people that have read the book might chafe at this considering, but I think it might have over complicated things. I can’t say too much because this is a spoiler-free review, but I think too much was too much.
In spite of what I said above, I enjoyed this novel and I hope to read more about Lady Trent in the future.