Magical Adventure Grown-Up
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
First Line: “Not a day goes by that the post does not bring me at least one letter from a young person (or sometimes one not so young) who wishes to follow in my footsteps and become a dragon naturalist.”
At the start, this novel seems to take us back to fantastical, childhood make-believe. But continue, and it quickly becomes clear that so much more is at work. It’s about dragons, yes; but it reads like a grown-up novel!
In fact, there are multiple genres taking stage in A Natural History of Dragons. Part I introduces our narrator: the young, strong-willed Isabella. Her tomboy nature reminds me of Little House on the Prairie and those early chapters act as a concentrated coming-of-age story. We’re given the essentials of her childhood infatuation with biology and dragons in particular, then it’s a fast-forward to her teen years. The mandatory frustrations in finding a marriage partner (and the inevitable triumph!) in those chapters call up Jane Austen’s sophisticated sense of romance.
The following three-quarters of this book are equal parts travel memoir, adventure novel, and page-turner mystery. Isabella joins her husband and a few other fellows on an expedition in pursuit of–you guessed it!–dragons. To study the “rock-wyrms,” they take cover in the peasant town Drustanev. Adventure ensues in way of smugglers and kid-nappings, dragon attacks, cursed ruins, and Isabella’s persistent objection to gender norms.
A sequel, The Tropic of Serpents is due out in 2014.
Bottom Line: If you aren’t quite up for the hard-core science-fiction shelves, but you’ve out-grown adolescent fantasy, this novel is your niche.