A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie BrennanA Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

byMarie Brennan

Hardcover | February 5, 2013

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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.

"Saturated with the joy and urgency of discovery and scientific curiosity."-Publishers Weekly (starred review) on A Natural History of Dragons

An NPR Best Book of 2013

The Lady Trent Memoirs
1. A Natural History of Dragons
2. The Tropic of Serpents
3. Voyage of the Basilisk
4. In the Labyrinth of Drakes
5. Within the Sanctuary of Wings

MARIE BRENNAN habitually pillages her background in anthropology, archaeology, and folklore for fictional purposes. She is the author of the Onyx Court series (Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, A Star Shall Fall, and With Fate Conspire) and the Doppelganger duology (Warrior and Witch), as well as more than thirty short stories.
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Title:A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady TrentFormat:HardcoverDimensions:336 pages, 8.12 × 5.76 × 1.12 inPublished:February 5, 2013Publisher:Tom Doherty AssociatesLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0765331969

ISBN - 13:9780765331960

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely wonderful! This is the first fantasy series I have gotten into in a very long time. I read it with a male friend of mine and while he was worried it would be to "girly" he was surprised how much he enjoyed it. It was really good to also start conversations about women in science and the attitudes there since they have changed through out the years as much as they should and this book takes place in a semi Victorian-inspired time period. Overall, I would highly recommend.
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful I LOVED IT! I could not put it down and finished it in less than a day. I can't wait for the next book. It was wonderfully different and yet familiar...the world building was excellent.
Date published: 2018-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Truly Enjoyable I received this book as a secret santa present, and it was a highly enjoyable read. Not a page turner, but lovely writing and not terribly difficult. Enough suspense, but not overly suspenseful.
Date published: 2018-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book! I absolutely love it! Must have for a woman who likes books, dragons and history :) Original idea, interesting events - worthy to recommend!
Date published: 2018-02-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Scientific fantasy Very enjoyable. This is a great, lighthearted fantasy novel that looks at dragons from a more scientific point of view. The artwork is a useful, and fitting, addition to the book. I'll be checking out the next entry in Lady Trent's memoirs
Date published: 2018-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect! Brennan really captures that Victorian writing style! I loved the plot and the characters, and the illustrations are gorgeous. Perfect for fans of Victorian classics, but who also like some dragons on the side!
Date published: 2017-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 3.5 stars This book is so unique - I love it. A Natural History of Dragons reads like a Victorian classic memoir of a Lady - but with dragons! This was originally a cover buy, but the story is what sold it for me. The story is really well written and engaging, although it starts off a bit slow. And it is incredibly detailed; there are sketches of dragon anatomy, maps of the fictional world it is set in, descriptions of different countries, cultures and even languages. I wouldn't call it a light read. But the adventurous plot balances all of that detail really well.
Date published: 2017-11-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Interesting Idea for a Book I thought that the general idea of the book was really interesting, but I found it hard to really get into it. Unfortunately ended up skipping through most of the middle of the book because it became very boring. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Epic I really wished I hadn't waited so long to get to this! It was so good, and definitely not the kind of book I should have picked up when I was supposed to be writing a research paper on C.S. Lewis! This novel is totally unique, and so satisfactory that when I finished it this afternoon I felt a longing to continue reading about Lady Trent's life and exploits. (I can't just go order the next instalment of the series since it chocks up to being over $30 Canadian for the hardcovers, unfortunately, and I'm collecting them in hardcovers because they're so pretty. So I'll have to wait, blah). I have never before have read a novel that was purposefully written so that it read like a memoir. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would when I cracked it open, but I wondered how the story would fare since – well... memoir + fiction? It's volatile stuff. But it worked so perfectly for this story, and I could hardly tear my eyes away from the pages in order to write my paper! The story opens in Lady Trent's youth, when she was young, seven year old Miss Isabella Hendemore. She went out to play one day and found a small, dragon-shaped creature lying in the grass, dead. When she tried to take it home with her, it disintegrated in her hands – later the family cook would teach her how to properly preserve one in vinegar, and when young Isabella manages to jar an intact specimen, she names it 'Greenie', after its colour. That was the moment her dragon fever, of a sorts, was born. It continued to drive her crazy until she was involved in an incident that forced her to conform to society – until she entered into her "season", the period of every young lady of high standing's life where they have to parade around until they met a man of high standing and they come to an agreement. Isabella, faced with a lifetime of having her interests an intelligence stifled by the society-driven assumptions of the man she may one day call her husband, agrees to go with her brother to the king's menagerie, and it is there she meets her husband: Jacob Camherst. It isn't long after they're married that they set off on an adventure into the mountains of Vystrana, where the rest of the story unfolds. I fell in love with all of the characters, and the form of storytelling. I love Isabella and Jacob, and Mr. Wilker reminds me of Rodney McKay from Stargate: Atlantis (same sarcastic, high-strung kind of guy). There are a few swear words, but nothing harsher than what I've heard my mother say when she's in a right royal mood (which is rare, and since we're Christian, it's nothing above a Parental Guidance). At the beginning, when Isabella married Jacob, I wondered why his last name was 'Camherst' and not 'Trent', since Isabella is known as 'Lady Trent' in the future and not 'Lady Camherst'. I distinctly remember thinking, He's going to die, isn't he? Now, if you've ignored my initial warning about spoilers, I'm afraid I've spoiled some of the story for you already. But I'm going to warn you again – stop reading if you haven't read A Natural History of Dragons yet! I'm going to be discussing the end past this point and I don't want to ruin it for you! Anyway, now that that's out of the way... Well, my hunch ended up turning out to be right. Jacob died, and that quite upset me. I liked Jacob! I didn't want Jacob to die! And because of where he died, he couldn't even be buried at home where Isabella could visit him regularly. It kind of reminds me of how Grandpa's grave is in BC, all alone. The dragons in the story were quite impressive, and I was mildly reminded of How to Train Your Dragon while I read. In a good way. I love the distinction of the world in this story. Usually, in fantasy, the society and world in the story is distinctly medieval. In this novel, the world is set at a technology level comparable to what we were at from 1812 to 1900 – there were steamboats, but according to Lady Trent there were yet to be railways and steam engines, yet there were steamboats – though I think they were comparable to the ones with the large paddle-wheels on their sides instead of ones of the Titanic's caliber. I love the illustrations in this book – there're so lifelike! One was creepy in a few aspects, the one depicting Zhagrit Mat, sent shivers up and down my spine. I half expected Zhagrit Mat to come leaping out somewhere in the story since, well, it's a fantasy! Anything could happen in a fantasy! That amped up the tension because so much was happening. It was delightful! The story world of A Natural History of Dragons is one I would love to daydream about, and I honestly can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Tropic of Serpents. Maybe I can get my hands on it before I come back to college... Ah! I love it when I come across a good book!
Date published: 2017-06-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Strong Female Lead I listened to the audio book of this story and it was very well narrated! My only complaint is that the audio book starts a little slow and it was hard to get into. #indigoemployee
Date published: 2017-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love this series I requested this book out of my local library, finished reading it within 24 hrs and loved it so much that I bought my own copy as soon as I was able.
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun, realistic 'memoir' Pros: realistic world, fascinating protagonist, good pacing / Cons: protagonist is remarkably lucky / Isabella, Lady Trent, looks back on her life in this memoir. It begins with her as a child obsessed with dragons and some of the crazier things she did in order to learn more about them. Her hijinks don't end as she becomes a young lady looking for a suitable match with a library he'll let her read. The book concludes with the first of what would be many excursions researching dragons. / Peppered with illustrations by Todd Lockwood, this is a gorgeous book. The print is a faded brown, rather than black, making it feel old and venerable. / Brennan obviously cribbed from history for this, as Scirland feels much like Victorian England in its social conventions and expansionist ideals. Similarly, Vystrana made me think of Eastern European villages, perhaps along the Russian border (as they're ruled by a Tsar). Regardless of what she cribbed from however, the world feels REAL. There are numerous languages, religions, customs, economic concerns, social concerns (different for men and women), class concerns, etc. In many ways, reading this memoir felt like reading an actual memoir, with just enough details about the daily life and times of the protagonist (which she mentions were different from the life and times of the present from which she's writing). / The pacing is great, with new challenges appearing for Isabella just as the previous ones are dealt with. / The only problem I could see with the book was that Isabella is amazingly lucky. She manages to get herself in and out of some difficult situations with fewer negative consequences than one would expect. / The ending is properly shocking, with the acknowledgement that there's more to the story. Given what she goes through in this volume I look forward to reading about her further adventures.
Date published: 2013-06-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A natural history of dragons A promising start to the series. Let's just hope the next books have more dragons!
Date published: 2013-05-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Read A well written book, enjoyable story and a definite change from typical dragon novels. I truly enjoyed the "naturalist" point of view in the story but at the same time I had expected the book to be more about dragons than just have them present. Nonetheless I look forward to the next one!
Date published: 2013-04-02

Read from the Book

ONE When I was seven, I found a sparkling lying dead on a bench at the edge of the woods which formed the back boundary of our garden, that the groundskeeper had not yet cleared away. With much excitement, I brought it for my mother to see, but by the time I reached her it had mostly collapsed into ash in my hands. Mama exclaimed in distaste and sent me to wash.Our cook, a tall and gangly woman who nonetheless produced the most amazing soups and soufflés (thus putting the lie to the notion that one cannot trust a slender cook) was the one who showed me the secret of preserving sparklings after death. She kept one on her dresser top, which she brought out for me to see when I arrived in her kitchen, much cast down from the loss of the sparkling and from my mother’s chastisement. “However did you keep it?” I asked her, wiping away my tears. “Mine fell all to pieces.”“Vinegar,” she said, and that one word set me upon the path that led to where I stand today.If found soon enough after death, a sparkling (as many of the readers of this volume no doubt know) may be preserved by embalming it in vinegar. I sailed forth into our gardens in determined search, a jar of vinegar crammed into one of my dress pockets so the skirt hung all askew. The first one I found lost its right wing in the process of preservation, but before the week was out I had an intact specimen: a sparkling an inch and a half in length, his scales a deep emerald in color. With the boundless ingenuity of a child, I named him Greenie, and he sits on a shelf in my study to this day, tiny wings outspread.Sparklings were not the only things I collected in those days. I was forever bringing home other insects and beetles (for back then we classified sparklings as an insect species that simply resembled dragons, which today we know to be untrue), and many other things besides: interesting rocks, discarded bird feathers, fragments of eggshell, bones of all kinds. Mama threw fits until I formed a pact with my maid, that she would not breathe a word of my treasures, and I would give her an extra hour a week during which she could sit down and rest her feet. Thereafter my collections hid in cigar boxes and the like, tucked safely into my closets where my mother would not go.No doubt some of my inclinations came about because I was the sole daughter in a set of six children. Surrounded as I was by boys, and with our house rather isolated in the countryside of Tamshire, I quite believed that collecting odd things was what children did, regardless of sex. My mother’s attempts to educate me otherwise left little mark, I fear. Some of my interest also came from my father, who like any gentleman in those days kept himself moderately informed of developments in all fields: law, theology, economics, natural history, and more.The remainder of it, I fancy, was inborn curiosity. I would sit in the kitchens (where I was permitted to be, if not encouraged, only because it meant I was not outside getting dirty and ruining my dresses), and ask the cook questions as she stripped a chicken carcass for the soup. “Why do chickens have wishbones?” I asked her one day.One of the kitchen maids answered me in the fatuous tones of an adult addressing a child. “To make wishes on!” she said brightly, handing me one that had already been dried. “You take one side of it—”“I know what we do with them,” I said impatiently, cutting her off without much tact. “That’s not what chickens have them for, though, or surely the chicken would have wished not to end up in the pot for our supper.”“Heavens, child, I don’t know what they grow them for,” the cook said. “But you find them in all kinds of birds—chickens, turkeys, geese, pigeons, and the like.”The notion that all birds should share this feature was intriguing, something I had never before considered. My curiosity soon drove me to an act which I blush to think upon today, not for the act itself (as I have done similar things many times since then, if in a more meticulous and scholarly fashion), but for the surreptitious and naive manner in which I carried it out.In my wanderings one day, I found a dove which had fallen dead under a hedgerow. I immediately remembered what the cook had said, that all birds had wishbones. She had not named doves in her list, but doves were birds, were they not? Perhaps I might learn what they were for, as I could not learn when I watched the footman carve up a goose at the dinner table.I took the dove’s body and hid it behind the hayrick next to the barn, then stole inside and pinched a penknife from Andrew, the brother immediately senior to me, without him knowing. Once outside again, I settled down to my study of the dove.I was organized, if not perfectly sensible, in my approach to the work. I had seen the maids plucking birds for the cook, so I understood that the first step was to remove the feathers—a task which proved harder than I had expected, and appallingly messy. It did afford me a chance, though, to see how the shaft of the feather fitted into its follicle (a word I did not know at the time), and the different kinds of feathers.When the bird was more or less naked, I spent some time moving its wings and feet about, seeing how they operated—and, in truth, steeling myself for what I had determined to do next. Eventually curiosity won out over squeamishness, and I took my brother’s penknife, set it against the skin of the bird’s belly, and cut.The smell was tremendous—in retrospect, I’m sure I perforated the bowel—but my fascination held. I examined the gobbets of flesh that came out, unsure what most of them were, for to me livers and kidneys were things I had only ever seen on a supper plate. I recognized the intestines, however, and made a judicious guess at the lungs and heart. Squeamishness overcome, I continued my work, peeling back the skin, prying away muscles, seeing how it all connected. I uncovered the bones, one by one, marveling at the delicacy of the wings, the wide keel of the sternum.I had just discovered the wishbone when I heard a shout behind me, and turned to see a stableboy staring at me in horror.While he bolted off, I began frantically trying to cover my mess, dragging hay over the dismembered body of the dove, but so distressed was I that the main result was to make myself look even worse than before. By the time Mama arrived on the scene, I was covered in blood and bits of dove-flesh, feathers and hay, and more than a few tears.I will not tax my readers with a detailed description of the treatment I received at that point; the more adventurous among you have no doubt experienced similar chastisement after your own escapades. In the end I found myself in my father’s study, standing clean and shamefaced on his Akhian carpet.“Isabella,” he said, his voice forbidding, “what possessed you to do such a thing?”Out it all came, in a flood of words, about the dove I had found (I assured him, over and over again, that it had been dead when I came upon it, that I most certainly had not killed it), and about my curiosity regarding the wishbone—on and on I went, until Papa came forward and knelt before me, putting one hand on my shoulder and stopping me at last.“You wanted to know how it worked?” he asked.I nodded, not trusting myself to speak again lest the flood pick up where it had left off.He sighed. “Your behaviour was not appropriate for a young lady. Do you understand that?” I nodded. “Let’s make certain you remember it, then.” With one hand he turned me about, and with the other he administered three brisk smacks to my bottom that started the tears afresh. When I had myself under control once more, I found that he had left me to compose myself and gone to the wall of his study. The shelves there were lined with books, some, I fancied, weighing as much as I did myself. (This was pure fancy, of course; the weightiest book in my library now, my own De draconum varietatibus, weighs a mere ten pounds.)The volume he took down was much lighter, if rather thicker than one would normally give to a seven-year-old child. He pressed it into my hands, saying, “Your lady mother would not be happy to see you with this, I imagine, but I had rather you learn it from a book than from experimentation. Run along, now, and don’t show that to her.”I curtseyed and fled.Like Greenie, that book still sits on my shelf. My father had given me Gotherham’s Avian Anatomy, and though our understanding of the subject has improved a great deal since Gotherham’s day, it was a good introduction for me at the time. The text was only half comprehensible to me, but I devoured the half I could understand and contemplated the rest in fascinated perplexity. Best of all were the diagrams, thin, meticulous drawings of avian skeletons and musculature. From this book I learned that the function of the wishbone (or, more properly, the furcula) is to strengthen the thoracic skeleton of birds and provide attachment points for wing muscles.It seemed so simple, so obvious: all birds had wishbones, because all birds flew. (At the time I was not aware of ostriches, and neither was Gotherham.) Hardly a brilliant conclusion in the field of natural history, but to me it was brilliant indeed, and opened up a world I had never considered before: a world in which one could observe patterns and their circumstances, and from these derive information not obvious to the unaided eye.Wings, truly, were my first obsession. I did not much discriminate in those days as to whether the wings in question belonged to a dove or a sparkling or a butterfly; the point was that these beings flew, and for that I adored them. I might mention, however, that although Mr. Gotherham’s text concerns itself with birds, he does make the occasional, tantalizing reference to analogous structures or behaviours in dragonkind. Since (as I have said before) sparklings were then classed as a variety of insect, this might count as my first introduction to the wonder of dragons.*   *   *I should speak at least in passing of my family, for without them I would not have become the woman I am today.Of my mother I expect you have some sense already; she was an upright and proper woman of her class, and did the best she could to teach me ladylike ways, but no one can achieve the impossible. Any faults in my character must not be laid at her feet. As for my father, his business interests kept him often from home, and so to me he was a more distant figure, and perhaps more tolerant because of it; he had the luxury of seeing my misbehaviours as charming quirks of his daughter’s nature, while my mother faced the messes and ruined clothing those quirks produced. I looked upon him as one might upon a minor pagan god, earnestly desiring his goodwill, but never quite certain how to propitiate him.Where siblings are concerned, I was the fourth in a set of six children, and, as I have said, the only daughter. Most of my brothers, while of personal significance to me, will not feature much in this tale; their lives have not been much intertwined with my career.The exception is Andrew, whom I have already mentioned; he is the one from whom I pinched the penknife. He, more than any, was my earnest partner in all the things of which my mother despaired. When Andrew heard of my bloody endeavours behind the hayrick, he was impressed as only an eight-year-old boy can be, and insisted I keep the knife as a trophy of my deeds. That, I no longer have; it deserves a place of honor alongside Greenie and Gotherham, but I lost it in the swamps of Mouleen. Not before it saved my life, however, cutting me free of the vines in which my Labane captors had bound me, and so I am forever grateful to Andrew for the gift.I am also grateful for his assistance during our childhood years, exercising a boy’s privileges on my behalf. When our father was out of town, Andrew would borrow books out of his study for my use. Texts I myself would never have been permitted thus found their way into my room, where I hid them between the mattresses and behind my wardrobe. My new maid had too great a terror of being found off her feet to agree to the old deal, but she was amenable to sweets, and so we settled on a new arrangement, and I read long into the night on more than one occasion.The books he took on my behalf, of course, were nearly all of natural history. My horizons expanded from their winged beginnings to creatures of all kinds: mammals and fish, insects and reptiles, plants of a hundred sorts, for in those days our knowledge was still general enough that one person might be expected to familiarize himself (or in my case, herself ) with the entire field.Some of the books mentioned dragons. They never did so in more than passing asides, brief paragraphs that did little more than develop my appetite for information. In several places, however, I came across references to a particular work: Sir Richard Edgeworth’s A Natural History of Dragons. Carrigdon & Rudge were soon to be reprinting it, as I learned from their autumn catalogue; I risked a great deal by sneaking into my father’s study so as to leave that pamphlet open to the page announcing the reprint. It described A Natural History of Dragons as “the most indispensable reference on dragonkind available in our tongue”; surely that would be enough to entice my father’s eye.My gamble paid off, for it was in the next delivery of books we received. I could not have it right away—Andrew would not borrow anything our father had yet to read—and I nearly went mad with waiting. Early in winter, though, Andrew passed me the book in a corridor, saying, “He finished it yesterday. Don’t let anyone see you with it.”I was on my way to the parlor for my weekly lesson on the pianoforte, and if I went back up to my room I would be late. Instead I hurried onward, and concealed the book under a cushion mere heartbeats before my teacher entered. I gave him my best curtsy, and thereafter struggled mightily not to look toward the divan, from which I could feel the unread book taunting me. (I would say my playing suffered from the distraction, but it is difficult for something so dire to grow worse. Although I appreciate music, to this day I could not carry a tune if you tied it around my wrist for safekeeping.)Once I escaped from my lesson, I began in on the book straightaway, and hardly paused except to hide it when necessary. I imagine it is not so well-known today as it was then, having been supplanted by other, more complete works, so it may be difficult for my readers to imagine how wondrous it seemed to me at the time. Edgeworth’s identifying criteria for “true dragons” were a useful starting point for many of us, and his listing of qualifying species is all the more impressive for having been assembled through correspondence with missionaries and traders, rather than through firsthand observation. He also addressed the issue of “lesser dragonkind,” namely, those creatures such as wyverns which failed one criterion or another, yet appeared (by the theories of the period) to be branches of the same family tree.The influence this book had upon me may be expressed by saying that I read it straight through four times, for once was certainly not enough. Just as some girl-children of that age go mad for horses and equestrian pursuits, so did I become dragon-mad. That phrase described me well, for it led not only to the premier focus of my adult life (which has included more than a few actions here and there that might be deemed deranged), but more directly to the action I engaged in shortly after my fourteenth birthday. Copyright © 2013 by Bryn Neuenschwander

Editorial Reviews

"Her Ladyship is a determined and canny woman in search of dragons--I wholeheartedly approve!" -Melanie Rawn, bestselling author of Touchstone, on A Natural History of Dragons"Saturated with the joy and urgency of discovery and scientific curiosity." -Publishers Weekly (starred review)"If you've ever secretly wished dragons were real, this story is for you. Fans of Naomi Novik and Mary Robinette Kowal will especially enjoy this book." -RT Book Reviews"Told in the style of a Victorian memoir, courageous, intelligent and determined Isabella's account is colorful, vigorous and absorbing. A sort of Victorian why-what-whodunit embellished by Brennan's singular upgrade of a fantasy bromide and revitalizingly different viewpoint." -Kirkus Reviews"Lady Trent is the Jane Goodall of dragonkind, and I'm glad she's finally sharing her story with the world." -Jim C. Hines, author of Libriomancer"A Natural History of Dragons stands somewhere between Naomi Novik and Elizabeth Peters, but rock-solidly in its own world and on its own terms. Highly recommended." -Daniel Fox, author of Dragon in Chains