Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan

Today I'm looking at A Natural History of Dragons, which is the first book in a series that makes up the memoirs of Lady Trent, a famous dragon researcher within the book's universe. The books are set in what appears to be the equivalent of our nineteenth century. Early on steam engines and steam-powered transportation is rare but not unheard of, but it id implied by Lady Trent that such developments such as railroads and steamships become commonplace within the book's universe. It is also an era when great researches into biology and natural history are being undertaken. The most tantalizing, and perhaps most difficult, is the study of dragons.

Dragons are already fierce predators and live in some of the most inhospitable climates in the world. In addition to being large, winged predators, they have fearsome breath weapons which makes just approaching the beasts dangerous. The research of dragons is also hampered by the extreme rate at which dragon bones decay, usually within a matter of days of the death of the dragon, making the collection of specimens for protracted study almost impossible.

Although to be honest the dragons felt mostly like a side-show because most of the focus is on the main character, Isabella, Lady Trent. As I mentioned, this book is the first in a series written from Lady Trent's perspective as memoirs of her career. This book deals with roughly the first twenty years of her life which takes us to the end of her first field expedition, undertaken with her husband and two other researchers. We meet Isabella as a very curious girl who first begins on scientific inquiry by wondering why birds have wishbones, specifically the evolutionary purpose of a wishbone. This leads to her dissecting a dead dove she found in the garden and a lifelong investigation into science. Of course, this sort of scientific inquiry is not seen by her mother as an appropriate interest for young ladies, but her father is far more lenient on the matter and is willing to indulge Isabella to a degree. Eventually she meets Jacob, a gentleman also deeply interested in natural history, and they get married.

Eventually Isabella and Jacob join an expedition to research rock wyrms, a species of dragon. The result is interesting, although I was left with the feeling of it being far more mundane than I hoped. And I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, you'd expect dragons and creatures like them such as drakes a wyverns to be exceptional creatures, mostly because we don't have any of them in the real world. On the other hand, the mundanity that Isabella approaches the topic at times seems downright appropriate. Because these books are vaguely steampunkish it makes sense for dragons to be just another species for scientists to observe, dissect, and categorize as they expand the limits of man's biological knowledge. So it's kind of weird to see dragons depicted as just another species to be studied, rather than magical creatures. But I think it's a good kind of different.

Overall I think this book is definitely a starter book for the series because it introduces Isabella and gets her started on her path of scientific research. I'm hoping that later books will expand on her career more and we'll get to see more dragons, especially Isabella interacting with them, than we have in this one.

- Kalpar

No comments:

Post a Comment