AudioBook Review: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

37600-anaturalhistoryofdragonsA Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

Genre: Fantasy, Dragons

Series: Memoirs by Lady Trent #1

Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates (February 2013)

Author Info:

Narrator InfoFacebook

Wendy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was not exactly what I expected. That is to say, there isn’t a lot about dragons, much less their history. I was expecting something that could almost be an accompaniment to His Majesty’s Dragon, and, if I wanted to get my headcanon on, I could manage a good mash up, with this book being like a prequel where Lady Trent and her ilk are learning about the enigmatic creatures. But alas, this is actually a memoir *of* Lady Trent, by the lady herself. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for dragons, they be not really here.

Instead, we get a look into the life of a young woman with an insatiably curious scientific mind that takes particular interest in the insect-like sparklings in her backyard. These tiny creatures would be the instruments of her fate in many ways, first sparking her interest in dragons, and later inspiring her continued research that leads her and her husband across the world to find real live dragons.

I’ve mentioned a few times now that I am steadily growing tired of speculative media where women are the inferior of the species, but sometimes, despite my misgivings, I can appreciate a book that sticks to this concept if it is done well. Most often, such stories are written by women, with Lois McMaster Bujold, being the most prominent example that springs to mind. Actually, prior to reading this book, Bujold was the only author I consider to write underprivileged women well, by showing how they understand their role as lesser beings, and work within it to achieve their goals and prove themselves, and are respected by men who aren’t bound to their society’s close-minded views. Brennan allows Isabella Trent to speak plainly about the role of females in society, though Isabella does not necessarily rail against it. She simply realizes that her passions do not coincide with societal norms for her sex. Fortunately, she is loved and respected by men who will not simply indulge her desire for knowledge, but encourage and enable it.

A recent essay by a young girl who lauds the character of Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter series, speaks about how Hermoine’s skill and intelligence is what is respected about the character, without her ever needing to play the damsel in distress to get the boys to help her out. Isabella has to struggle a bit to make the men in her life understand how important her study of dragons is to her, but once they do understand, they quickly respect her for her intelligence and consider her their equal in as much.

In terms of the dragons, as I mentioned, we don’t see much of them, even during the pivotal and climactic moments. But I liked the way Brennan maintained Trent’s critical and scientific mind when the dragons are present–especially at a particularly critical moment. It makes her seem emotionally detached from everything and everyone else, but this too is addressed well by Brennan, and when Isabella does allow herself emotions, I found it to be very moving. In fact, I was surprised by my reaction to the ending. I had not quite realized how deeply I had become involved.

I give some credit there to Kate Reading, whose narration, as always, is impeccable. She gives such nobility, humility, dignity and strength to the women she narrates.

I also liked Isabella’s relationship with Dagmira, the irascible maid servant assigned to her when she travels across the world to study dragons attacking Dagmira’s village. It is an atypical relationship that never quite reaches the point of friendship, though grudging respect creeps in from time to time. It is a refreshing and sometimes amusing companionship.

The political intrigue and illegal comings and goings that eventually take over the plot in the second half of the book are the story’s only flaw. It all works, and thankfully does not slow anything down, but at times, the connection to the dragons feels a bit tenuous and forced. When things turn in this direction, the lack of dragons becomes more glaring.

Still, a very enjoyable read, and an unusual take on ‘history’ and science that brings dragons to life.

14 Comments on “AudioBook Review: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan”

  1. I was interested in this book up until I read the part about it not really being about dragons. Euuh, say wha!? It’s good that you were still able to make the most of this listen in spite of the misleading cover & title. I was worried that this one might have fallen short in audio, so kudos to Kate Reading!


    • I trust Kate Reading with anything now 🙂

      I wonder if future books will delve deeper into the dragons and science. They were definitely involved in this book, but in a purely scientific fashion, and most often from a distance, unless they were dead and being dissected. An intriguing approach, but yes, misleading when it comes to the title.


  2. Yes, Dagmira was hilarious!! Her dry humour/sputtering anger spiel was a definite highlight of the expedition for me (especially since she’s the only female character we really get to know aside from Isabella). Personally I was hoping for a lot more dragons, but maybe I’ll enjoy book 2 more if I listen to it on audio rather than read it. I’ve heard good things about Kate Reading but haven’t listened to anything she’s narrated yet.


    • Ooooh definitely listen to her! She’s beautiful when it comes to older protagonists (though Isabela is also younger in this). I highly recommend Paladin of Souls.


  3. I’ve actually stalled on this audio book. I was absolutely loving it in the beginning and now I’m stuck in the middle and I just set it aside and turned to Brandon Sanderson instead. I WILL finish it – even if I have to speed read through the second half. But right now its rather turned into a 3 for me at this point we’ll see if it can notch it back up a bit. I don’t like the sound of political junk taking over.


    • I may have tuned out a bit on the political part. I had a very long, 72 hour work week when I was listening to it on my drives to and from work, but I did still enjoy it well enough.


  4. This is a book I’ve wondered about since it was published–mainly because I love the cover. And I was expecting it to be more about dragons.

    I really enjoyed your review, Wendy. Since I haven’t bought the book I don’t feel the need to buy and read it! It sounds interesting, but doesn’t excite me.


  5. Pingback: Tough Traveling: Curses! | The BiblioSanctum

  6. Pingback: Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan | The BiblioSanctum

  7. Pingback: Book Review: In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan | The BiblioSanctum

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