Saturday, January 18, 2014

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons

This will be my last review of a 2013 book for a while, thank goodness, I've had to completely reorder my reviewing list to get these done as quickly as I could and as a result there are some things that have been on there for quite a while. Perhaps in the future I should continue reviewing novels during November Month of Manga as well, hmm. Regardless, I'm a little surprised that out of all the 2013 books I was looking for in my library that hey had this one (new author, not your typical set-up for a fantasy, etc) but I am not one to complain when the library has things I want to read!

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Tent by Marie Brennan 

Isabella has been fascinated by dragons ever since she was a small child, no matter that this was not a proper past time for a growing young lady of privilege, yet she the older she gets the more interested in them she is. And so what is she to do but manipulate her way into an expedition into the reaches of a far off country where she has a chance to study them herself?

This was a book I both liked and was rather frustrated by, let's start with my frustrations first. This is a story about a young, aristocratic lady who is making scientific discoveries about dragons yet it's told in recollection when she's much older. I understand why the author chose that viewpoint, the character even says that now that she has enough clout with the academic world, and her publisher, that she can tell her story exactly the way she wants to and that makes a lot of sense. However, I did often feel cheated when I would be reading along and she would suddenly interject things such as "and please ignore those papers I wrote at this age about our travels since I was young and ignorant", I wanted a story of a young woman coming into her own in the world and realizing what she did and didn't know, not a story of an old woman saying what she didn't know. It felt made _____ feel like a much flatter character, that it took seemingly decades for her to realize her own faults, although given that she was under 20 in the story it is understandable, and I wanted the story of her growing and studying dragons, not just the dragons and seeing that at some undisclosed point later she grew. There was also a certain air to the way this was done, a "young people are too self-centered to realize these things," since she realizes very few of the incorrect/offensive things she has done  and that whole tone ended up bothering me for the entire book.

As for what i enjoyed, it's a book written in the style of a young, privileged woman of the 1800s whose studying dragons, what's not to like there? The pseudo-science was interesting, I liked the world-building, that made the world fun. I do wonder however if the book was also intentionally written to be a bit "pulpy" (conspiracies, ancient ruins, and bandits oh my!) or not, if not then it's a bit of a major oversight and if so, eh, pulp isn't really my thing. And, well, that's as far as my enjoyment extended, while I certainly didn't hate the book when I was reading it, or even dislike it as a whole, the pacing did feel weird at times (even though I hadn't seen anything about it when I started I wondered if this was supposed to be the first book in a series and I only discovered a few days ago that my suspicions were spot on) and Isabella just doesn't do any of her alluded to character growth within the actual story. I'm in two minds about the book in the end, on the one hand it wasn't terribly done by use of the word, yet I just don't find myself that enthusastic about the upcoming Tropic of Serpents, yet in a few months I might find that my view has softened and find myself once again surprised by what my library has on hold for me.

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