It turns out, and I wouldn't have discovered this without reading A Natural History of Dragons [US] [UK] by Marie Brennan, that I really like dragons slaying, riding, attacking, hoarding, speaking, snoozing, probably even over-easy ... but to witness them studied for science bored me to death.
I feel really bad about this, because there are some great things about this book, I just couldn't wait for it to be over.
A Natural History of Dragons is a memoir of the life of the famous Lady Trent, who tells about her first interest in dragons and some of her early experiences with them.
Brennan does a great job sticking to character. The Lady Trent, or just Isabella Camherst as she's known throughout the book, is a woman of science and Brennan very convincingly characterizes her as such. She's so brimming with eagerness to study and learn and discover and it's apparent in both the beginning of her life and her characterization later in life that we only get through the actual telling.
This Victorian era-type place is brought to life with all its sensibilities, especially those that go against a budding young naturalist who is a woman and her constant battle with all those inherent sensibilities. Then she adds dragons to this era! Very cool. Especially since they're all over, from the tiny sparklings that are considered to be insects by many to much larger ones.
And then there's the beautiful artwork by Todd Lockwood. Not only do we get this gorgeous cover, but there are dragons (among other things) depicted throughout the book that are just as captivating.
(I realize the book cover's in the upper left, but this bears repeating!)
The problem is that with the over-intrusion of the narrator, Lady Trent, and possibly with the addition of the aristocracy's confidence in their own imperviousness, there really isn't a lot of suspense. Possibly at the very end at one single moment, but that's it. We already know she's fine, she's telling the story and interjecting points about how young and naive she used to be. Now, you can say this about most first-person narratives, but this was even more obvious.
The characters are just not relatable to me. I mentioned above that Brennan nailed the era, but these are high class people that can't even go anywhere without a servant of some sort. I just couldn't love them and I'll take responsibility for this - I know plenty of people love it, but it did not work for me.
It took me a while to figure this out, but it sounds like we're going to get through her whole life in this one book, when really it's only the first couple experiences. Therefore, it seemed to drag on (dragon, get it) this one event. The Lady Trent alludes to many experiences, especially early on, and it sounds like those are all going to happen in this book, but it took me till about 50% in to figure out that it was mainly focused on this one event and that was it. This also could have just been my lack of awareness about sequels because I thought this was a stand-alone book.
In the end, I really do think the problems were my own. A Natural History of Dragons is a well-executed story that I found was just not for me.
2 out of 5 Stars (Just Okay)
A Natural History of Dragons will be available for purchase February 5, 2013.