Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons

I kind of loved and hated this book at the same time. Mostly loved the plot and characters but the world and culture really irked me.

The universe is basically Victorian Britain with different names. So it’s all upper class disdain, casual colonial references, and of course an overwhelming patriarchal culture. Gag.

I can understand how that makes for a good girl overcomes adversity type story but it’s just so fucking annoying. At almost every turn (at least in the beginning) there are all the ‘girls can’t do that, you need to be a proper lady to get married’. Then she gets married and it’s all ‘that’s not a proper lady like thing to do.’ Then they finally go on the adventure and there is the occasional swipe at being a woman. The only way she gets to do anything is because her husband allows her to (Jacob was lovely as a character though, bit light on development though).

I realise it is fiction, but you suddenly think of the real world counterpart and get annoyed at such a pretence. Couldn’t there be an alternative Victorian Britain where women were equal and it was just dangerous to go after dragons for everyone?

Anyway, it really grated and annoyed me. Especially as she had to go traipsing around in stupid skirts all the time.

Aside from the entire patriarchal universe, it was pretty fun. The book is in the form of a memoir, where Isabella recounts the youthful adventures from her position as national treasure and seasoned dragon naturalist. It starts from when she was young, goes through her getting married and then the main portion of the novel is her first dragon expedition.

The dragons they go see are attacking people (not the normal behaviour of dragons) and so there is a bit of a mystery to unravel. It’s very readable but not extraordinary as a plot. Isabella is mostly likeable (and she apologies for her youthful ways of describing the peasantry from the novel she wrote and references), very capable and generally quite fearless. She gets herself into some silly scrapes which were slightly melodramatic but were mostly amusing.

Isabella, of course, is the most rounded character. Almost all the others have only one character trait and exist to propel the plot without much interference of their own interests. It was a bit one dimensional in that sense. Even Isabella just turned from amateur dragon enthusiast to bigger enthusiast, without much else happening to her character.

It’s all a bit light and fluffy really, a solid holiday book. It was really easy to read but inconsequential. I don’t know if there are other books, but I would totally read another one if there was more dragon adventuring and less patriarchy.

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