A Natural History of Dragons
by Marie Brennan
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.2/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.88/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.76/5
 
 

This has often been the way with me: notions too mad for another to take seriously are the very notions I seize upon and enact, often in the most organized and sensible fashion. (I say this not out of pride, for it is a very stupid habit that has nearly gotten me killed more than once, but out of honesty. If you do not understand what my husband has called my deranged practicality, very little of my life will make the slightest bit of sense.) [pp. 25]

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is the first in a series of five books chronicling the past adventures of the famous dragon naturalist Isabella, Lady Trent. This book begins with her early life—a little about her childhood, her early interest in dragons, and eventually her marriage—and then proceeds to focus on her first important adventure involving the study of dragons. The second Memoir by Lady Trent, The Tropic of Serpents, was released in the US earlier this year and will be released in the UK on June 20.

Even as a child, Isabella had an “unladylike” interest in the subject of natural history, particularly when applied to dragons. Her curiosity about such matters led her to many actions of which her mother would disapprove: preserving and collecting dead sparklings, dissecting an expired bird to learn how its wings work, reading Sir Richard Edgeworth’s renowned reference A Natural History of Dragons, and dressing as a boy in order to sneak into a party of men hunting a wolf-drake. The latter incident resulted in her injury, and after that she attempted to fit her mother’s idea of a proper lady for a couple of years by spending her time horseback riding and sketching. While Isabella later learned to appreciate some of the skills she learned during this time, she found the years during which she abandoned her interests dreadfully dull.

Marriage was inevitable for a young woman from Scirland, and once Isabella reached sixteen years of age, her mother turned her attentions toward seeing her daughter wed a fine gentlemen. In hopes that it may help her secure some happiness for herself, her father provided her with a list of eligible scholarly gentlemen likely to have well-stocked libraries, including some who owned A Natural History of Dragons. When Isabella later toured a menagerie with her brother, she made the acquaintance of one of these gentlemen, Mr. Camherst, in the dragon room. The two conversed about dragons and met again after that at various social engagements, and eventually Mr. Camherst proposed to her, intrigued that she seemed to be interested in him for his hobby rather than his wealth. Isabella agreed, but only after embarrassing herself by making it clear she was primarily interested in his library (which did not deter Mr. Camherst, who found this more amusing than insulting).

Isabella and Jacob Camherst married, and while Isabella enjoyed the library, she found her wifely social duties rather dull. Eventually, she resumed studying sparklings and met Lord Hilford, who has traveled all over the world studying and even capturing dragons. After learning of his upcoming expedition to study rock-wyrms in Vystrana, Isabella determined to convince Jacob to go on this trip. She persuaded him to do so, but she soon discovered that living vicariously through his adventures is not enough for her, nor is studying the little sparklings at home. Isabella decided that she herself must accompany this expedition and managed to persuade both her husband and Lord Hilford to allow her to come. When the expedition arrives in Vystrana, they are attacked by a rock-wyrm before they even reach their lodgings and they quickly learn their work will be even more difficult than expected—the rock-wyrms have recently begun attacking people and no one knows the reason for this sudden change in their behavior.

A Natural History of Dragons sounded like a book I would enjoy based on its premise: memoirs written by a woman who defied the social conventions of her time to become a dragon naturalist famed for great discoveries in her field. It was indeed a book I enjoyed very much, but what truly made this book a gem was Lady Trent herself. She’s a fascinating character as one who overcame many obstacles in order to pursue her dreams, and she also has a compelling narrative voice that makes her story a delight to read. As she reflects back on her early life, she does so with straightforward honesty and a sharp wit. I loved her storytelling style and the personality that came through the pages, and I thought the inclusion of some of Isabella’s sketches added to the charm of A Natural History of Dragons.

The plot itself is not particularly extraordinary. It’s largely an account of Isabella’s early life that eventually turns its primary focus to her expedition to Vystrana and the mystery of the recent changes in rock-wyrm behavior. There is much time spent on her studies and interactions with the local people, and there’s a little bit of a love story since Jacob and Isabella do come to care for each other (not that they weren’t fond of each other before they were married, but they did seem to get married more because society expected it than because they wanted to). Without Isabella’s character and narrative, this book would not have been particularly memorable, but she made it special.

I loved that Isabella is a character motivated by an insatiable curiosity that drove her to keep learning despite the constant reminders that women were not supposed to behave as she did or find the study of natural history worthwhile. Most of all I loved her courage—not so much her ability to face dragons since these actions often seemed reckless more than brave, but the courage it took for her to follow her dreams knowing that she’d be judged as foolish and improper. At first, she does attempt to fit into the mold expected for a young lady by quietly sketching and remaining quiet about her enthusiasm and knowledge about dragons, but she slowly begins to follow her own path instead of society’s and has adventures and makes remarkable discoveries.

If there is one thing I wanted more of from this book, it was to be more emotionally invested in what happened. There certainly were some emotional moments, but there was a certain distance that kept me from getting too attached. This is perfectly fitting for this book since it is supposed to be a memoir about Isabella’s career as a dragon naturalist, not her most intimate feelings and secrets. However, it did keep me from wholeheartedly loving this novel with no reservations even though I thought a great deal of it.

A Natural History of Dragons is not a book that stands out for its plot, but it has a memorable main character with an engaging narrative voice. I’m looking forward to reading more of Lady Trent’s adventures and finding out what happened in the next stage of Isabella’s life, as I found the first volume of her memoirs utterly charming.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher of the UK edition.

Read an Excerpt (and view some illustrations) from A Natural History of Dragons

Other Reviews:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought one ARC in the mail. This week, I expect to have at least one review up since I’ve almost finished my review of Marie Brennan’s wonderful book A Natural History of Dragons. After that, I’ll probably start working on my review of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison even though that means I’ll be putting up two very positive reviews in a row (these are two of my favorite books I’ve read this year).

On to this week’s book!

Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

This fantasy novel is available now in the UK and Canada and is scheduled for hardcover/ebook release in the US on July 1 (although both Barnes and Noble and Amazon list is as being available July 15). An excerpt from Traitor’s Blade can be read on Tor.com.

 

In the first of a new fantasy series by Sebastien de Castell, a disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by protecting a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy.

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their king’s head on a spike.Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left is the promise they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the king’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought four finished copies and one ARC. One of the finished copies has been discussed here before, but here’s the link in case you missed it:

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

The Tropic of Serpents (A Memoir by Lady Trent #2) by Marie Brennan

The Tropic of Serpents was released in the US (hardcover/ebook) in March and will be released in the UK (paperback/ebook) on June 20. The first book in this series, A Natural History of Dragons, is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year so I’m quite excited about reading the second one!

I suspected from the very first page that I would love A Natural History of Dragons: Lady Trent’s voice captivated me, and I’m glad there are going to be five books total about her life and discoveries! (I’m currently working on a review of this book and trying to be more coherent than “IT’S FANTASTIC” is proving to be difficult.)

Excerpts from both books are available on Tor.com:

  1. A Natural History of Dragons
  2. The Tropic of Serpents
 

The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents . . .

Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.

Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.

The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.

The Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon

The Merchant Emperor (Symphony of Ages #7) by Elizabeth Haydon

The latest book in the Symphony of Ages series will be released in hardcover and ebook on June 3 (about 7 1/2 years after the publication of the previous book in the series). An excerpt from The Merchant Emperor can be read on Tor.com.

The first six books in this series are as follows:

  1. Rhapsody: Child of Blood
  2. Prophecy: Child of Earth
  3. Destiny: Child of the Sky
  4. Requiem for the Sun
  5. Elegy for a Lost Star
  6. The Assassin King
 

The war that they had feared is now upon them. Ashe and Rhapsody, leaders of the Cymrian Alliance, are gathering their allies to combat the machinations of Talquist, who will soon be crowned emperor of Sorbold. Gwydion Navarne remains by Ashe’s side. Anborn, Lord Marshal, has taken to the field. And Rhapsody has been forced into hiding to protect the life of her infant son.

The Merchant Emperor of Sorbold has unintentionally allied himself with a pair of demons and has begun targeting the dragons that remain on the Middle Continent. Talquist will stop at nothing until the Cymrians are wiped out and the entire continent and the rest of the Known World is under his rule.

Assailed by danger from all sides, surrounded by lies and intrigue, Rhapsody is left with one undeniable truth: if their forces are to prevail, she must join the war herself, wielding the Daystar Clarion, an ancient weapon whose power is nearly unparalleled. As she struggles to reconcile her duties as a mother and ruler, a danger far more devastating than Talquist is stirring beneath the surface of the land itself.

The Scorched Earth by Drew Karpyshyn

The Scorched Earth (The Chaos Born #2) by Drew Karpyshyn

The Scorched Earth is scheduled for publication in August (trade paperback/ebook). An excerpt from Children of Fire, the first book in the series, can be read on Suvudu.

 

New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed video game writer Drew Karpyshyn returns with the second novel in an original epic fantasy series—perfect for fans of Terry Goodkind, Peter V. Brett, and Brandon Sanderson—about four young people who will either save the world or bring about its destruction.

The Children of Fire—four mortals touched by the power of Chaos—each embody one aspect of a banished and fallen immortal champion: Keegan, the wizard; Scythe, the warrior; Cassandra, the prophet; Vaaler, the king. Now grown to adulthood, the Children are in search of the ancient Talismans that can stop the return of Daemron the Slayer, ancient enemy of the Old Gods. But in acquiring Daemron’s Ring, they’ve left in their wake death, destruction, and a queen bent on revenge.

For the discovery of the Talismans has unleashed a flood of Chaos magic on the land—and now their strength will be tested and their faith tried as never before. Beset on all sides by both mortal and supernatural enemies, they race to find Daemron’s Sword, the last of the ancient Talismans, before the entire mortal world is engulfed in the flames of war and Chaos that will herald the return of the Slayer.

Shattered by Kevin Hearne

Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7) by Kevin Hearne

The latest novel in The Iron Druid Chronicles (and the first to be released in hardcover!) will be published on June 17. It will also be available as an ebook, and you can view some of the inside of Shattered on the publisher’s website.

The first six books in the series are as follows:

  1. Hounded
  2. Hexed
  3. Hammered
  4. Tricked
  5. Trapped
  6. Hunted
 

Acclaimed author Kevin Hearne makes his hardcover debut with the new novel in his epic urban fantasy series starring the unforgettable Atticus O’Sullivan.

For nearly two thousand years, there was only one Druid left walking the Earth—Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, whose sharp wit and sharp sword kept him alive while pursued by a pantheon of hostile deities. Now he’s got company.

Atticus’s apprentice Granuaile is at last a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who now goes by the modern equivalent of his old Irish name: Owen Kennedy.

And Owen has some catching up to do.

Atticus takes pleasure in the role reversal, as the student is now the teacher. Between busting Atticus’s chops and trying to fathom a cell phone, Owen must also learn English. For Atticus, the jury’s still out on whether the wily old coot will be an asset in the epic battle with Norse god Loki—or merely a pain in the arse.

But Atticus isn’t the only one with daddy issues. Granuaile faces a great challenge: to exorcise a sorcerer’s spirit that is possessing her father in India. Even with the help of the witch Laksha, Granuaile may be facing a crushing defeat.

As the trio of Druids deals with pestilence-spreading demons, bacon-loving yeti, fierce flying foxes, and frenzied Fae, they’re hoping that this time . . . three’s a charm.

Today I have a complete trilogy to give away: Wide Open, Deep Down, and Strange Country by Deborah Coates! Wide Open was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel in 2012, and the series sounds wonderful!

Wide Open by Deborah Coates Deep Down by Deborah Coates Strange Country by Deborah Coates

About the First Book in the Trilogy, Wide Open:

Wide Open by Deborah Coates is the first book in a series of “startlingly original” (Booklist) contemporary fantasy novels set against the sweeping prairies and desolate byways of the American Midwest, creating “a rural backwater where the normal and paranormal seamlessly merge.” (Publishers Weekly)

When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.

The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Something happened or Dell’s ghost wouldn’t still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell’s loss, think Hallie’s letting her grief interfere with her judgment.

The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn’t have to.

As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace.  Soon, someone’s trying to beat her up, burn down her father’s ranch, and stop her investigation.

Hallie’s going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.

Wide Open has been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, appeared on Locus Magazine’s Recommended Reading List for first novels, and was chosen as a Tor.com Reviewer’s Choice Pick for Favorite Book of the year. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction claimed that it is “one of the best first novels I’ve read in a long time” and Library Journal agrees that “fans of urban fantasies should enjoy the kick-ass [heroine].”

Wide Open Excerpt | Deep Down Excerpt | Strange Country Excerpt

Courtesy of Tor Books, I have a set containing the complete trilogy by Deborah Coates to give away! This giveaway is open to those with a mailing address in the US or Canada, and it includes Wide Open, Deep Down, and Strange Country.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Wide Open Giveaway.” One entry per person and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from the US or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, June 6. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the books).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Edit: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

Aurora in Four Voices by Catherine Asaro

One of my favorite science fiction authors, Catherine Asaro, has a Kickstarter campaign right now to raise money for producing an audiobook of Aurora in Four Voices narrated by Sylvia Roldán Dohi. This anthology contains both novellas and short stories, including the first story in the Saga of the Skolian Empire, “Light and Shadow,” and the Nebula Award-winning story “The Spacetime Pool.” The Kickstarter ends on June 7 and there are some amazing rewards, such as ebooks, a signed hardcover copy of Aurora in Four Voices, a digital copy of the audiobook, a Skype book club visit by Catherine Asaro, an in-person book club visit by Catherine Asaro, and the chance to be a character in a future book or story! If the stretch goal of $9,000 is met, Catherine Asaro will write a brand new Ruby Dynasty novella and backers who pledged at least $12 will receive an early digital copy of this story!

Generation V by M. L. Brennan Iron Night by M.L. Brennan Tainted Blood by M. L. Brennan

I was very impressed with the first two Fortitude Scott books by M. L. Brennan, Generation V and Iron Night—in fact, I thought these two books were the best start to an urban fantasy series I’ve read (even better than the first two books in my three favorite ongoing UF series). I’m very excited about the third installment coming in November, Tainted Blood, and I was thrilled to read M. L. Brennan’s recent announcement that there will be a fourth book in the series in 2015! Now I am keeping my fingers crossed that there will be even more books because I would love to read more.

The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

Since I enjoyed The Whitefire Crossing and LOVED The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer, I’ve been eagerly awaiting news of the final book in the trilogy, The Labyrinth of Flame. Courtney Schafer recently announced that she will be self-publishing the final book for a variety of reasons, such as the ability to release it faster. She will be doing a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of the book (including an editor, copy editor, and a cover that matches the first two, which makes me deliriously happy). The Kickstarter will probably be sometime this fall, and she is hoping to have the book completed this winter.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought four finished copies of books and one ARC. I have already discussed one of the finished copies here before, but here is the link to read more about it in case you missed it:

The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

The Girl With All the Gifts, written by Mike Carey (author of the Felix Castor novels and graphic novels including Lucifer and some volumes of X-Men and Fantastic Four), will be released on June 10 (hardcover, ebook). The first ten chapters can be read on the publisher’s website.

 

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her ‘our little genius’. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh. Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen

The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen

This new edition of The Science of Discworld will be available on June 3 (trade paperback, ebook). The Globe: The Science of Discworld II will be following in December 2014 and the next two volumes in June and December 2015.

 

Not just another science book and not just another Discworld novella, The Science of Discworld is a creative, mind-bending mash-up of fiction and fact, that offers a wizard’s-eye view of our world that will forever change how you look at the universe.

Can Unseen University’s eccentric wizards and orangutan Librarian possibly shed any useful light on hard, rational Earthly science?

In the course of an exciting experiment, the wizards of Discworld have accidentally created a new universe. Within this universe is a planet that they name Roundworld. Roundworld is, of course, Earth, and the universe is our own. As the wizards watch their creation grow, Terry Pratchett and acclaimed science writers Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen use Discworld to examine science from the outside. Interwoven with the Pratchett’s original story are entertaining, enlightening chapters which explain key scientific principles such as the Big Bang theory and the evolution of life on earth, as well as great moments in the history of science.

Strange Country by Deborah Coates

Strange Country (Wide Open #3) by Deborah Coates

Strange Country will be released on May 27 (hardcover, ebook). It’s the conclusion to a trilogy and the first two books are as follows:

  1. Wide Open (Read Excerpt)
  2. Deep Down (Read Excerpt)

An excerpt from Strange Country is available on Tor.com.

 

After facing Death himself and banishing a reaper bent on the destruction of Sheriff’s deputy Boyd Davies, Hallie Michaels had hoped things would finally settle down; that she and Boyd would find more time to spend together, and that the ghosts she attracts would stay in the cemeteries where they belong.

But on a wintry night in mid-December, a woman is murdered with a high-powered rifle. Not long after, another of West Prairie City’s citizens is killed in exactly the same way, drawing the attention of state investigators. But the connection between the victims is not easily uncovered.

Meanwhile, Hallie finds a note tied to post outside her home. “What do you fear most?” it asks, accompanied by a set of map coordinates. Over the next few days she receives an anonymous phone call, and a letter left for Hallie at the local ag supply. All pose the same question and offer the same set of coordinates. The mystery deepens, and Hallie must solve it before the body count rises again, in Strange Country by Deborah Coates.

The Boost by Stephen Baker

The Boost by Stephen Baker

The Boost was released on May 20 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt is available on Tor.com.

 

Ralf is a software prodigy. He works in the US government office that updates the software in the population’s boosts—networked supercomputers contained in a chip implanted within the brains of 99 percent of the world’s population. Invented by Chinese researchers in 2032, the boost is credited with leading humanity to its most significant cognitive leap since the discovery of fire.

Days before a national upgrade, Ralf notices that the update includes an open surveillance gate—meaning that Americans, who had negotiated high levels of privacy with the Chinese manufacturers, will now be subjected to the invasive Chinese standard. Ralf attempts to hack the boost, but is caught by agents working for Washington’s preeminent lobbyist. His boost is ripped from his head, and Ralf barely escapes with his life.

Pursued by the lobbyist’s mercenary cadre, Ralf flees to the US–Mexico border, where there are others like him—“wild” humans on the fringes of society, unenhanced by technology. It’s a frightening and backward world controlled by powerful drug lords. Ralf’s only hope is to somehow work with these wild bosses of the analog world—in hopes of winning back freedom in the digital one.