4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
A Natural History of Dragons is what you get when you take the sort of memoir written by upper-class female explorers of the nineteenth-century, and add dragons. The writing style as well as the world which Isabella inhabits is not our world, but very similar. In fact, if it were not for the various countries named that Isabella visits or knows of, then I would assume it was our world. Although I am an avid reader of epic fantasies, I also really appreciate and enjoy these more ‘subtle’ fantasy tales, where just one element is a little bit different, or there is something extra.
I was completely enthralled from the start of the book. Being a memoir, we learn of some of Isabella’s childhood, namely how she grew to become obsessed with studying dragons. This is, of course, a most unsuitable activity for a lady of her station, but she finds ways around it until it is impossible to stop her pursuing her passion. To be honest, I have to say that I found the sections of the book before her first major expedition to be the most interesting – they built up the world and society, with a social system not that dissimilar from nineteenth-century Britain. I felt more of Isabella’s passion and love for dragons within the first few chapters, than anywhere else in the book.
In terms of Isabella as a character, she was a fun protagonist – I always love to see studious characters who have something they are really passionate about – but she did occasionally have a bit of an ‘I’m not like other girls attitude’, which can be very grating. She also made a few questionable (read: stupid) decisions that seemed a little out of character for someone so intelligent, although I suppose book smart is not street smart… Her husband was a sweetie, and I would have liked to see their relationship develop a little bit more.
Overall, this was a really solid and fun fantasy read. I loved how Isabella followed her interests and her passion for dragons, even though it was entirely improper for a young lady of her standing. Defying all social expectations of her peers, she did not let them stop her or slow her down. What I would have liked was more detailed information about the various dragons – the book title kind of implies that there might be a lot more ‘scientific’ information than there was, but is in fact named after a book that Isabella holds very dear. I did lose focus on the story about two-thirds of the way through, but the beginning was just so wonderful that I felt it made up for it. One more thing though… can we have even more dragons next time?