Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons

Book One of The Memoirs of Lady Trent

by Marie Brennan

Fantasy | 334 Pages | Published by Titan Books in 2014

| Rating |

A Natural History of Dragons, the first volume in Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent, is a fascinating expedition into lands unknown, where cultures clash, society is upturned and magnificent, dangerous beasts stalk the earth, seas and skies.

From lands firmly rooted in our own cultures, Marie Brennan has created a world which resonates with a sense of real world history and weaves a thread of draconic magic throughout in this beautifully crafted and subtly fantastic memoir.

Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

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.Isabella, Lady Trent of Scirland, has led a life of adventure, science and scholarly progress, a life which has swung between tremendous highs and painful lows. A noted and respected academic in the field of natural history, Isabella has travelled to the ends of the earth, battling societal pressure, gender repression and a distinct inability to conform in pursuit of her passion: dragons.

Now an elderly woman, Lady Trent, whose fame and success often eclipse her early struggles, puts pen to her early life. From adventurous child to budding explorer, Isabella sets out to overcome the restrictions placed on her as she ventures across the seas to Vystrana in search of the illusive Rock-Wyrm.

A tale of scholarly passions and societal acceptance, Marie Brennan has crafted a novel which, through its subtle charm, blossoms into life as the adventures of Lady Trent unfold. While sometimes lacking the depth and explosive excitement of epic fantasy, A Natural History of Dragons proves a pleasant and altogether human read where the course of life never runs smooth but its highs and lows never fail to make an impact.

Set in a world not unlike our own, where Lady Trent’s home country of Scirland could well be a Nineteenth Century England overrun with dragons; the first in this series captures real world history and culture and builds an enchanting fantasy from them. And while the storyline may have benefited from more of the fantastical and strange, the pockets of description and witty narrative style make for a fascinating mirror world.

Isabella proves an interesting narrator whose personality refuses to conform to the constraints in which society would shelter her. Speaking with the authority and openness granted to her in later life, she still retains the innocence and wonder which first led to her study of dragons throughout. And though the strength of her voice sometimes overwhelms those of other characters, there is enough interest and mystery surrounding them to leave the reader wanting more.

Marie Brennan has created a beautiful novel which captures the imagination and takes the reader on an expedition into the unknown. And while more detail and excitement may have been warranted where dragons are concerned, the pace and style of the narrative make this novel a joy to read.

A Natural History of Dragons is an imaginative and wonderfully pleasant foray into the life of Lady Trent, a woman whose own adventures promise to grow bolder and more thrilling with every tale, and a series which I for one am eager to continue.

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The Friday Face-Off: March 04

Friday Face Off 2cWelcome to The Friday Face-Off, a new feature here at Books by Proxy. Join me every Friday as I pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe.

| The Friday Face-Off: Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner |

As soon as I saw the stunning covers for Marc Turner’s Dragon Hunters, a book which has a premise just as captivating as its wrappings, I knew this second novel in The Chronicles of the Exile belonged at the top of my to-read list – and that it had to feature on The Friday Face-Off.

Published by Titan in the UK and Tor / Forge in the US, we have two incredibly evocative pieces of artwork to ogle. With both covers capturing the drama and scale of this imaginative work of fantasy, this week’s face-off is sure to prove a tough choice. Take a look and see which cover comes out on top.

Titan – UK Cover

Tor / Forge – US Cover

Artwork by Greg Manchess

“Wow, that is stunning! I saw some pencil sketches of the cover a few months ago, but kudos to Greg Manchess for producing a final image that really captures the drama and threat of the book. I love how the waterline view makes the dragon loom higher. I also love how the creature seems to be staring at you rather than at the unfortunate souls on the ship. Hard to believe, looking at that cover, that the dragon is the one that’s being hunted. Perhaps someone should remind the creature of that fact.”

Marc Turner

| The Friday Face-Off: Winner |

Both of these covers are ridiculously stunning and highlight one of the most appealing aspects of this book – the sea serpents! Whilst both the UK and the US cover capture two wonderfully dynamic images of dragons intent on dealing some damage on the high seas, both offerings remain distinct in their style and excecution.

However, despite the wonderful artwork of Greg Manchess, this week’s face-off has to go to Titan’s UK cover. The colours and lighting which play across the stormy skies and seas are so dramatic and so eye-catching that they bring out my inner magpie at just a glance. Plus, that is one awesome looking dragon. Titan? More please!

Which cover wins your vote this week? And stay tuned for the upcoming review!

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From Friday 11th March, The Friday Face-Off will be a weekly meme! Each week will follow a loose theme – which should of course spark a veritable cornucopia of visual delights – just post and compare your favourites from across the globe and link back to that Friday’s post.

The master list is currently being compiled and will be posted in the next few days. If there are any themes you are eager to see just drop me a comment or message! Happy cover hunting bookworms!

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The Friday Face-Off: February 19

Friday Face Off 2cWelcome to The Friday Face-Off, a new feature here at Books by Proxy. Join me every Friday as I pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe.

| The Friday Face-Off: Vicious by V.E. Schwab |

Oops! I’ve most definitely failed by February challenge of posting every day… but before Friday comes to a swift close, here is this week’s Face-Off.

This week we’re returning to the brilliant V.E. (Victoria) Schwab and her wonderfully dark novel Vicious. Published by Titan in the UK and by Tor in the US, we’re looking at two gorgeous and entirely different covers which showcase some comic (anti)hero inspired artwork by Amazing15 and  Victo Ngai. Scroll down to see which one wins your vote.

Titan – UK Cover

Cover Design by Amazing15

“It’s so completely different from the US cover, which I adore with fiery heart, but I love it so very, very much. It’s dark and punchy and movie poster glorious, and my main character, Victor, looks like an arrogant badass, which is essentially what he is and ngghhhhhhh.”

V.E. Schwab

Tor – US Cover

Artwork by Victo Ngai

“I am a very, very lucky author.”

V.E. Schwab

| The Friday Face-Off: Winner |

This week Vicious threw up a difficult choice. I love Titan’s UK cover – I love how bold it is, how it grabs you as soon as you see it, how it takes the superhero theme and uses it to create a punchy and eye-catching cover, and I love those grungy blacks and whites and reds. It’s also a book I’m consistently drawn to as it loiters on my bookshelves – so it very nearly tipped the balance in Amazing15’s favour!

But Victo Ngai. The more I look at her artwork, the more I love it. It’s simply stunning – and not just on the Vicious cover (seriously, check her out!). The more you stare at this cover, the more details become apparent and the more you come to appreciate what a wonderful piece of illustration this is. It speaks to the book, it speaks to the superhero genre, and it remains playful whilst revealing the darkness at the core of this novel. It really is perfect for Vicious.

Check out the making of the US Vicious cover on

Have you read Vicious? Which is your favourite cover? 

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The Friday Face-Off: January 29

Friday Face Off 2cWelcome to The Friday Face-Off, a new feature here at Books by Proxy. Join me every Friday as I pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe.

| The Friday Face-Off: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab |

We’re soon to be celebrating the release of A Gathering of Shadows (hello, February 23rd!) so it seemed like perfect timing to have a look back at the first in what looks to become a highly enjoyable series. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is a dazzling, gripping foray into a world that parts at its seams and allows the brave, the bold and the bloody reckless to slide between its pages. Published by Titan in the UK and Tor in the US, this week we have two striking covers to weigh up. Take a look at the contenders and see which, if any, you favour…

Titan – UK Cover

Cover Design by Julia Lloyd

Tor – US Cover

Cover Design by Will Staehle

| The Friday Face-Off: Winner |

ADSoM - winner

I love both of these covers! They’re both beautiful, clearly relate back to the story and have a simple, eye-catching palette. The Titan cover is bold and brilliant – and makes a wonderful addition to my bookshelf! However it’s the illustrative Tor cover by Will Staehle that just tips the balance over to the other side of the Atlantic. Staehle’s cover is well composed and elegant whilst retaining its striking, bold use of colour and the typeface has a wonderful oldy-worldy quality to it that pairs well with the stylised illustration. As a whole Staehle’s cover just really hits me in my face-off sweet spot! 

Have you read A Darker Shade of Magic? Which is your favourite cover? 

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