A Natural History of Dragons

One of the things I intend to do more of is to write more about reading. To practise thinking more about the books I read, rather than Yes, I like or No, I don’t. To work out why and what I like or dislike about a book, whether it’s the characters, or the writing, or the story in general.

To begin, a recent read was A Natural History of Dragons, the first volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs (author: Marie Brennan). Simply, I liked this book, and I fully intend to collect the rest of the series (the second has already been obtained and begun, and continues to entertain).

Initially I was uncertain, despite the lure of dragons. There’s just something about a first person female narrator which makes me nervous. This is an odd prejudice, given that several of my favourite books ever have first person female narrators (Scout Finch and Fanny Logan come to mind), but the ones I’ve come across in more recently published narratives have an annoying tendency to spill every last thought or heartbeat they have onto the page. Emotions are all very well, but learn to control or contain them: hearts belong in chests, not on sleeves. (Same goes for males, by the way.)

Lady Trent, however, is wonderfully restrained when it comes to such matters. Interested in natural history, fascinated by dragons, impatient of a society which wants her to become wife and mother, she tells, briefly, of her childhood, and then of how she came to join her first expedition to study dragons in the mountains of Vystrana.

The world she inhabits is vaguely 1800s, with some lands post-industrial and conflicts over natural resources such as iron occurring. Lady Trent’s interest in these is only insofar as they affect dragons or interfere with her research. She is not trying to change the world; simply, she is trying to study dragons, and not even her mother is going to stop her.

I like Lady Trent. She is largely unsentimental, driven by curiosity and a desire to know, and given to the occasional mad idea. Usually she thinks first, but there isn’t always time. In telling of her youthful adventures, she has an old woman’s disdain for society’s opinion, warning the faint-hearted and weak-stomached to read no further. The gory details are not, after all, all that gory, though they might offend those with Victorian sensibilities.

A Natural History of Dragons is a sensible length for a book. The sort which you could, if you had an afternoon to spare, probably read in one sitting, and not so complicated that you have to keep flicking back to check who this or that person is. (Or have to have a list of characters to reference each time someone is mentioned.)

I’m not going to have a star-rating system, I’m afraid; my way of rating books is even simpler: Keep or Donate. This one’s a Keep.

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