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SPOILER ALERT!

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan Hmm...what to say about this book? I liked the memoir style. I liked the narrative within a narrative structure. It was entertaining enough. Yet I feel let down. First - and this is a well documented gripe - there aren't nearly enough dragons and it wasn't really a natural history either. Most of what we learned about the dragons in this book is that while our protagonist loves dragons, neither she nor the broader scientific community know much about them at all. We saw I think 2 live dragons and some bones, along with some problematic attitudes toward big game hunting (which is ok if it's for "science" I guess). None of these encounters were described with the depth or detail that you'd expect from a protagonist who devoted her life to the study of dragons. This is fantasy, she could have made up literally anything at all about dragons and it would have been ok. This is another one of those instances where I feel like I got tricked into reading a romance. I don't give a shit about your marriage prospects, gimme the damn dragons!

And while I get that the Lady Trent is a Victorian lady and that Scirland and Vystrana are fictional places, it made me a little uncomfortable that the racism and classism of Victorian England went unchallanged. Her descriptions of the Scirland and Vystrana people were far from flattering (being generous there) and could have come straight from the pages of a real collection of Victorian travel writing. Whatever goodwill Lady Trent built up in the way of pursuing her passion despite her gender, she lost through her treatment and descriptions of her Vystrani maid. But we'll say that's not problematic and chalk it up to an effort to romanticize that era (which is problematic in and of itself, but MOVING ON...). The other major weakness is that her character never develops and we're supposed to take that as a sign of her just being strong-willed. She repeats the same mistakes over and over, bringing harm to others, but it's seemingly ok because, again, of "science". Not only is that aggravating in terms of character development, but it makes for a pretty boring plot as well. "Hey Isabella, don't do this ok? It's seriously dangerous and you might get us all killed." Oh boy. I wonder what she's going to do next...

I couldn't decide how I felt about Jacob's death. At first I was annoyed - for at least the 10th time on their expedition, Lady Trent does something she shouldn't have done and puts them all in a compromising position, only this time she gets her husband killed. And then she shows literally no remorse. There was a throwaway paragraph in there about how her grief was real and her depression was real and she doesn't have to answer to anyone (I get that, I can support that), but it was pretty flat. On top of that, his death was pointless. How did it better the plot? What purpose did it serve? So that was irksome and kind of lazy. What was the point of his character then? Just a means to an end? Just a tool to make her more sympathetic? (If so it failed in that regard) But then I thought: You know, women are killed off for no reason all the time in pop culture, it's kind of refreshing to see it go the other way. But then I thought: No, it's just lazy, she's not trying to undermine that sexist character type. So here I am, annoyed that Jacob was a one dimensional character and just as annoyed that he died a pointless death.

I want some god damn dragons.