Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan
Fantasy: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan
Lady Trent is a naturalist, an expert in dragons. For a woman to accomplish this in a Victorian-type society is no small accomplishment. It is little wonder, then, that her autobiography would be so eagerly sought by publishers. A Natural History of Dragons is the first installment of her autobiography, one that tells the story of her early life, her marriage, and her first trip abroad to study dragons in their native habitats.
Marie Brennan thus begins a new fantasy series set in a Victorian-esque world where ladies wear dresses and do not do things like travel abroad to study dragons. Unless those ladies are Lady Trent. In this fun and well-written book, styled as a first-person autobiography of the protagonist, our heroine breaks the mold of feminine society to pursue her passion as a natural historian, studying dragons in the mountains of someplace like Russia (but not actually Russia).
Lady Trent is smart, brave, and quite willing to confront society, travel hardships, smugglers, and dragons head-on. She is self-aware, noticing her own shortcomings and occasional lack of compassion with regret. She loves her husband almost as much as she loves her dragons. In all, she is a delightful protagonist.
As fun as it is to see a woman tackling the conventions of Victorian society, it’s important to step back for a moment and realize that women and girls still struggle to break through stereotypes to pursue careers in the sciences and other STEM fields. Reading about the challenges faced by a woman who was expected to fulfill her role as wife and mother and lady-in-society should serve to remind us that society still has expectations of women that are governed more by gender perceptions than by logic. We can be grateful that a woman traveling to study animals in their native habitats is no longer scandalous. Let’s be even more grateful when a woman pursuing her career in science or math is no longer unusual.
Marie Brennan has written a fun novel about a bold protagonist who may be as brave as the dragons she studies. I look forward to getting into further Lady Trent novels, and learning more about dragons in the process.
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