Audiobook Review Bites: Here Be Dragons
Lady Isabella Hendemore discovers a lifelong love of natural science, especially the study of dragons, at the tender age of seven-years-old. In her polite society, academics are something that women are discouraged to pursue in fear that it’ll drive away potential suitors who might find them too curious to wed. Over the years, Isabella continues her studies as discreetly as possible with some aid from one of her older brothers until she eventually ends up marrying baronet and kindred spirit Jacob Camherst. With some prodding, Isabella–now known as Lady Camherst–is able to convince her husband to join an expedition to study rock wyrm dragons. At first, she is content to live vicariously through her husband, but as she realizes that she is about the miss an opportunity that may never come around again, Isabella persuades the expedition to allow her to join under the guise of being their artist and secretary. This first book is narrated by a much older Isabella.
I floundered a bit on this rating because I didn’t really start enjoying this book until it was nearly over. This was an agonizingly slow listen for much of the book, but the ending touched me. I enjoyed Isabella’s unconventional nature, but there were things I just didn’t like about her. She struggled to be accepted in a society that would step all over her, which she complains about often, yet her own behavior was equally privileged, elitist, and self-serving to the point of being almost awful. I know she mentions many times during the course of this story that she was very young then and is quick to point out where she was wrong, so maybe these are flaws that correct themselves in future books as she matures. Also, I find that it’s very easy for me to become annoyed with fantasy of manners books. This book seems to praise the imperialistic attitudes that prevailed in the Victorian era rather than showing how ridiculous it was (aside from gender roles), which ties into many of the attitudes I strongly disliked in Isabella and her companions. You’ve created this fantasy world that is just more or less England. Same social mores, nothing that really made me feel like I was reading about some new and exciting setting. Why not just make an alternate historical England?
Finally, there’s not much in the way of dragons, and that would’ve been okay if the rest of the story was better. This book touches on so many things outside Isabella’s love of natural sciences, but it just fell so flat with me. This book was somewhat saved by an exceptional narration by Kate Reading, that cover, and the ending. I’m going to really have to have a heart-to-heart with myself about whether I want to give this series one more chance or not by reading the next book.
Narrator: Kate Reading | Length: 10 hrs and 16 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Macmillan Audio (November 15, 2013) | Whispersync Ready: Yes
I checked out A Natural History of Dragons and this book from the library together. I went into this book dubiously after not enjoying A Natural History of Dragons as much as I’d hoped. However, I loved this book. It’s narrated by my all-time favorite narrator, Simon Vance, who did a stand-up job as usual with all the characters. I’m a big fan of history, so I loved that this had some foundation in a real historical event (the Napoleonic Wars) and Novik weaved this awesome fantasy element of dragons into that event. This story is based on the foundation that during the wars, different countries had dragons at their disposal to form an aviation corps. France has built up an impressive aerial army while the British, while not shoddy, aren’t nearly on par with the French aviation corps. Their dragons are well-trained, but they are fewer in number. British Navy Captain, Will Laurence, captures a French vessel whose cargo includes a dragon egg preparing to hatch.
Dragons have to be harnessed from birth with their new captain, and life in the aerial army isn’t seen as a life that many would want mainly due to social conventions of the time. However, someone from Will’s crew has to take on the task of harnessing the dragon since it will hatch before reaching land. Despite the men drawing lots and Laurence not being the chosen man, the hatchling takes to Laurence rather than the man who was supposed to become his captain. Laurence names the hatchling Temeraire after a warship, and this first book chronicles their adventures as Temeraire learns to become a war dragon and Laurence is taken away from the sea and taught to be an aerial captain.
This book was basically How to Train Your Dragon for grownups. It was endearing and funny, and I couldn’t help loving how Laurence and Temeraire’s relationship developed during the course of this story. This was a beautifully written and well-realized story that does an excellent job with making the dragons feel as if they were actually part of this history. Novik did a wonderful job with the characterization and the action, making everything work together seamlessly. The writing is calculated and every word seems considered. It doesn’t have much of what I would consider fluff. Vance’s narration just adds the cherry to the cake, engaging the reader even more.
Narrator: Simon Vance | Length: 10 hrs and 00 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Books On Tape (October 03, 2007) | Whispersync Ready: Yes