Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan *spoiler free*

Updated: Jun 12, 2018

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is the first in a series which chronicles the memoir of Lady Trent, "The Worlds Preeminent Dragon Naturalist".

I give this novel a middle of the road rating because while I did not enjoy it, I do think it was well crafted and could be enjoyed by a reader with different tastes from myself.

Going into this story I was expecting a mixture of Indiana Jones and Dr. Grace Augustine, but after reading the first few chapters realized I was more likely getting Elizabeth Bennett with an itchy trigger finger.

Lady Trent begins her story as a young woman gripped by curiosities of the natural world at a time when she should have been concerned with her reputation and prospects for marriage.

There is very little time devoted to world building because the setting and customs of Lady Trent's home are very similar to our own world during the time period of Regency England.  The countries have different names and there is the addition of dragons to the animal kingdom, but everything else is pretty much the same.

I did not like Lady Trent.  And I suspect that is supposed to be the case.  Right in the opening remarks of the memoir, Lady Trent herself states that she is flawed and is not proud of some things she has done in her life.

Conceptually, I understand why the author would want the protagonist to present herself as an incredibly real, and therefore flawed, individual.  Lady Trent is supposed to be an intellectual, and a pioneer woman.  She presents the facts as they are, rather than amending them to flatter herself.

But because this main character is a very polarizing type, and because this story is very introspectively coming from that main character, if you find yourself in my position, unable to invest in her, the rest of the story just falls flat.  I would have loved to read this book for the rich setting, the witty cleverness of the characters, or the amazing scientific discoveries, but unfortunately, there were none.  

I am a reader with little tolerance for main characters who constantly make poor decisions.  Specifically, decisions where I as the reader cannot follow the character's reasoning for arriving at that decision.  It starts to feel like plot happens for plot's sake.  And at times, Lady Trent is exactly that sort of character.

I did enjoy certain things about her.  I liked her going against the status quo to educate herself.  I enjoyed her positioning the men in her life to meet her goal of going on an expedition.  I even appreciated her not being above begging her husband to not leave her behind when it came to it.

But once she gets on the expedition I could no longer get behind her actions and behavior. 

The rest of the characters are not much better.  They are full of pretense and armchair science and all incredibly impressed by their own 'cleverness'.  They display beliefs of superiority over their foreign hosts.  All of which added marks to the unlikable checklist for me.

I think it's entirely possible that this behavior also represents real life armchair scientists from the turn of the century, but it made for a frustrating read.

I was definitely expecting more adventure and more scientific discovery. 

During this first book, Lady Trent is still fighting to earn her keep in the field of science among her husband and others.  It is very small scale.  She is limited in what they allow her to do, and what science is capable of.  I suspect there may be more adventure and more discovery in the subsequent books, but I don't know that I will keep reading.

So, to recap, my dislike of the characters prevented me from connecting to their struggles, misfortunes, and triumphs.  And in the end, I was bored by this story. 

If you have a similar reading preference as myself, this book may not be a good fit for you, however, if none of what I have described above particularly bothers you then you may very well enjoy this series.  I listened to it on Audible and can recommend it because I enjoyed the narration so much.

Rating: 3/5

Categorization: Fake Memoir, Regency Period, Fantasy

Length: 334 pages

Plans to Continue the Series: No

What this Story has to Offer You:

  • Memoir Format

  • Very Introspective Narrative

  • Dragons

  • Ambitious Female Protagonist

  • A Fantasy Regency Period Setting

  • The Age of Exploration

  • Armchair Science

  • Travel Narrative

Check out the synopsis & more reviews on Goodreads:

Thanks for reading!


Photo taken by me

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