Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Blog Tour Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

From the Back Cover:

"You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten . . ."

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.

My Thoughts:

This was one of my most anticipated new releases, and while there were a few bumps along the way to my four-star rating, I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next book in this new series. I was captivated by Isabella's voice right away. We first meet her as a seven-year-old chasing Sparklings, tiny little insect-like dragons, then again as a fourteen-year-old chasing a much more dangerous beast, and finally as a sixteen-year-old in her first society season chasing that most elusive of creatures, a good husband. Isabella has a most "unladylike" fascination with natural history, and dragons in particular, and pretty much orchestrates the events in her life (so much as she is able) to bring her closer to her ultimate dream: studying dragons in the wild.  She achieves her goal, but it is not without cost, and not without a wealth of hardships and learning experiences. Isabella is an interesting character: intelligent and educated, driven, incredibly self-aware, yet a bit on the selfish side, and in the habit of not thinking how her actions will affect others until it's too late. I found much in her to admire, and a little bit to get angry with, but mainly I had to keep reading to see what she would do next.

I had originally thought this was going to be an alternate history featuring dragons, but it's actually a completely new fantasy world, although based on the mores and means of Victorian English society. I adored the first half of this book as it zipped right along through Isabella's childhood and the circumstances that placed her on her first expedition, but I thought the story became a bit bogged down once they reached their exotic destination. It moved rather slowly, and the wordiness that had previously added to the humor and ambiance became a little tedious. And just when Isabella and her team began to make real dragon-tific discoveries, the story veered off into a direction more about what the humans in the area were doing rather than the dragons, and I found myself waiting for the story to come back around to the main issue. But it did, and did not disappoint, with an exciting although heartbreaking ending that brought tears to my eyes, and a final chapter that cheered me up a bit with the promise of what's to come. Aside from that slow bit, I have no complaints. The author's writing is impeccable and the subjects are fascinating. If you're into Victorian mysteries with strong female leads like those from Deanna Raybourn, Carol K. Carr, and Lauren Willig, you may enjoy this fantasy twist on the genre. I did, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

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