Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Breannan (+ Giveaway!)

A Natural History of Dragons
Series: Not at present
Release Date: February 4, 2013
Publisher: Tor
Pages: 336
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads: 

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.


Best friends FOR LIFE!

I've already extended sleepover party invites to Kat and Theodosia, but both came with the caveat that they're young and I'm old and so there's some creative time travel going on with those invites.

But no time travel is needed for Isabella because she's a grown-up version of those middle grade characters! Isabella is like a Jane Austen heroine, but with the spunk of Kat and the bookish practicality of Theodosia (and by practicality, I mean Theodosia's all, "I'll just need to collect these ingredients so I can create an ancient spell that will repel these cursed mummies. No matter the danger. Oh dear, and I must make sure to do it all in time for the gallery opening. Well, let's begin." See, practical and awesome).

AND Isabella has an undying passion for studying dragons.


Our sleepover party would be filled with non-stop chatter about dragon anatomy and theories of development and habitation and other nerdy topics I love. We'd eat finger sandwiches and stay up late planning our next trek into the wilderness in search of daring adventures and the answers to all our burning scientific questions.

And, yes, I'm totally geeking out about this.

A notation on the narrative style, and other points of interest

This isn't an epistolary novel, but I think fans of epistolary novels will like the narrative style. A Natural History of Dragons is supposed to be Isabella's accounting of her life when she was a much younger girl. She makes frequent comments directly to the reader, noting how she views things differently now (neat observations) or how her editor balked at her including racier subjects (lame interjections).

The result is that the book reads a lot more like a old lady chatting with you directly about her life as a younger girl. So, readers looking for straight action novel-style writing might not like it very much. Normally that would be me (no patience!) but I actually LOVE talking with the grandparent generation and getting swept away into their stories of the past, so I was totally absorbed.

The first half of the book is a lot of non-action and mostly sets the stage of how Isabella got interested in dragons, how she met her husband (sweet, but not entirely swoony), and erm, well, it was basically a zip through of her life Pre-Adventuring. I enjoyed this part a lot, but I can't even entirely explain why considering I fully recognize that it's slower and disappointingly dragon and adventure free. But, I'm chalking my enjoyment up to:

  • Isabella is awesome and I like spending time with her (especially the parts where she talks about loving books)
  • It has all the Jane Austen stuff like Isabella's season and her mom worrying she'll never find a husband
  • It contains the briefly mentioned but seared-into-my-heart sweet story of Isabella and her relationship with her father (the dragon book! Matchmaking! LOVE these scenes)
  • Isabella meets her husband!
  • Oh, and there is an escapade involving boy's clothing, a rifle, and well, it's a fun scene
Hm, well, I guess a lot of stuff does happen. 

The second half of the book

That's where the real adventure begins! There's mystery, romance, action, adventure, murder, intrigue, and SO much more!

This is also where all the secondary characters really come alive and the romance between Isabella and her husband starts to get swoony in a heart-melting way. 

A totally spoilery comment

In Marie's interview, she mentioned a scene that may inspire ranty emails and I would SO send my own ranty email except that I'm sorta kinda holding out hope that there's a sequel and the events that happened, while devastating and sad and gut wrenching, well, might they be clearing the way for a little hate-turned-love romance with a certain Mr. Wilker? 

Maybe?*fingers crossed*

The cliffhanger of doom!!! No, wait, what? This is a standalone??

This always happens. I always lament the fact that authors are so caught up in series that there are never any good old-fashioned standalone novels anymore.

And then I get one in the form of A Natural History of Dragons, and all I can think is WHY IS THERE NO SERIES PLANNED?!

True, it did end just fine as a standalone. And, true, it is very nice to be able to read one book and know I'm getting a complete story. But, but there is SO much more to Isabella's story! And I love her so much and her adventures sound so grand that I really, really want to read more about her life.

So, please?

Bottom line

I had never heard of Marie Brennan before this, but I wasn't even finished with A Natural History of Dragons before I started adding every other book Marie has written to my TBR (and checking to see which were available in my library. Which is none, unfortunately. BUT the library in the next town over has her series about Queen Elizabeth and fairies and I am totally willing to drive over to check those out. Though, I really wish they had her series about witches and dopelgangers, which sounds awesome. Anyone have these? Want to trade?).

Which is all to say, I enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons immensely. 

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

And, in case you missed this earlier...
Want a chance to win your own copy of A Natural History of Dragons? Thanks to the publisher, I have three copies to offer!

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: Three people will each win one finished hardcover copy of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan!
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • You must have a US/CA mailing address
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • Your address is not required, but including it will help with sending the book out to you sooner
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on March 20th 

Do you have any questions about A Natural History of Dragons that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.


  1. Your review has made me activly want this one--thanks!

    1. You're welcome! I hope you like it as much as I did!

  2. I thought this might be a book you liked and I'm so glad to see that it was! I really love your comparison to Kat, Incorrigible. I picked that book up because you recommended it so I think I will also need to pick this one up!

    1. Aw, I love hearing that about Kat, Incorrigible! Yes, I think you will enjoy this book, too. The relationships are sweet and I think you'll like Isabella and her husband.

  3. I've been seeing this book around, and I am intrigued! Actually, I was. Now I'm just dying to read it! Awesome review!

  4. Very thorough review. I really enjoyed this story. I was a little worried you wouldn' though because of the lack of action. So happy you connected with the MC. She was a really cool person. Plus one of my favorite parts was that the dad arranged her marriage so you could be happy - that was a first for me.

    1. I know, there really wasn't much action in the beginning, but I really did love Isabella. I completely agree with you about the arrangement of her marriage! I loved that the author wrote it that way. It was so sweet.

    2. PS: I HATED the ending, just didn't want it to turn out that way or even expect it to. I'm with you - sure hope there are more books!!!

  5. Okay, I finally understood the Kat and Theodosia part of the beginning, lol.

    The book sounds good and I grew up being looked after by my gran so in theory I should like this a lot, so I'm going to put it on my wishlist!
    Even if the cliffhanger of doom doesn't bode well.

  6. Okay, Small, don't hate me, but I'm not such a big fan of dragons. I mean, as far as fantastic creatures go, they're big and scary and I prefer small, cuddly things. Speaking of which--did you know that a baby duckbilled platypus is called a puggle? I found that out when a student was working on an animal report.

    BUT. I am willing to get out of my comfort zone and try this book. Jane Austen overtones? Swoony romance? Sounds perfect!

  7. Ooh, ooh can I get an invitation to the sleepover to talk about dragon anatomy, too?? I would like to think that if I lived in a world where dragons existed, I would likely be studying their biology rather than dinosaurs like I do now. I can't be confident as to how I would feel about the narration style without having read the book, but I feel like I would like it from your description of it. You have me SO excited about this one now!!

  8. I'm dying to read this, especially since Isabella is Jane Austen protagonist-esque.


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