Book Review: A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS by Marie Brennan

Title in black on beige next to image of dragon
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: yes - first book


Book cover for A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS: title in black above a drawing of an anotomical dragon

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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS is a brilliant series starter, packed full of voice, humour, and science. This imagines a world without magic but there are dragon – just no one’s done much study into them, and Isabella is going to change that. I loved the focus on scientific method and natural philosophy.

So much research has been done into the technology and scientific techniques of the early Victorian period (my best guess for what period this secondary world is based on, given the various clothing and technology references.) I always appreciate the time and details put in.

There’s such a dry sense of humour in this book, cutting remarks about the world and a woman’s place in it (not to mention the limitations Isabella is under.) It’s rare for a book’s tone to hit the right notes for me to find it funny – usually it’s situations and dialogue – as humours tone is so personal. But THE NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS is just perfect.

I loved the fact that we have an elderly narrator. The Isabella undergoing the adventures is in her late teens (but it is NOT a YA book – the tone and pacing is completely wrong for YA, it’s a much slower tone that meanders around observations.) However, the Isabella writing the memoir is elderly – not sure how old, but to my mind significantly (she calls under 40s “youngsters”, which makes me think at least 80s!) Senior citizens do not get much space in fantasy, but the “so done with the world” and “I have seen more than my silly editor” vibe the narrator gives out is brilliant.

And onto the next book! I am glad we agreed to buddy read the full series this week – no point faffing about before reading the next.

Read my reviews of other books by Maire Brennan:

The Memoirs of Lady Trent (this series):

With Alyc Helms (as M. A. Carrick)

Rook and Rose:


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