Just as steampunk rewrites familiar history with technological advancements, A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS takes an oh so familiar historical period and adds a drop of the draconic. Though the place names are different, the flavor of Victorian England and Scotland is strong enough to make this story feel familiar.
And it was that familiarity that really hooked me. Brennan swirls a touch of fantasy into her world, like rich cream in coffee, but I marveled most at the ways Isabella overcomes the mundane obstacles in her path. Our heroine has no special powers, just a passion for biology. With this inner fire, she navigates the marriage mart and societal pressures, all the while hiding her intelligence and interests under the Clark Kent-guise of silence and small talk. The dragons were a tasty accent to the story, both for their beautiful illustrations and unknown properties. By giving Isabella passion for dragons, rather than elephants or bees or something familiar, Brennan allowed me to discover this species alongside her heroine. The tantalizing hints regarding dragon biology and behavior gave me a window into Isabella's world, those details inspire echoes of Isabella's passion and curiosity in myself.
My only complaint was on the romance end of things. I love Isabella's young husband, and the hints of how these two innocents muddled through the foreign territory of marriage. I was looking forward to seeing how this relationship evolved, and having him sliced out of the story was a disappointment. With the future stretching onward, I expected Jacob's mysterious nature to be revealed over time. After his death, that potential withered to a plot device, a red-shirt in place only to put Isabella on her path to greatness.
A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS reminded me more of other beloved historical novels, either with a touch of fantasy or without. Isabella is a capable, indomitable, yet human character, testing her mettle against a world closed tight against her passion. Forget genre, this book is a testament to character, to the strength of an outsider against society's expectations.
Full review to follow.
Sexual Content: References to sex.