A Childhood Passion. A Soulmate. An Expedition. Dragons. Scientific Discovery. A Mystery. Ancient Ruins. Smugglers.
Imagine being a young girl with a passion for science in an age where young girls are expected to be prim and proper, preparing to become the perfect wife. Now, imagine that passion is for studying dragons. The recently released, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is a memoir, told by an old woman, of how a forbidden childhood passion turned into a life-long career. Needless to say, the book is part fantasy, but it is also mixed with a good dose of mystery, some science, some adventure, and a bit of a love story.
Briefly, we meet Isabella at age seven when she is dragon-crazy, like many young girls are horse-crazy. She embalms a “sparkling,” a very small dragon, a symbolic beginning. In her early teen years, she dresses up as a boy in an effort to go on a dragon hunt. The results are almost fatal. She then goes through a grey phase where she gives up all things dragon and attempts to be the perfect daughter. Once she turns 16, her parents expect her to find a husband. Her sympathetic father hires a matchmaker, who makes a list of suitable candidates with extensive libraries that they would willingly share with their prospective wife. During a side trip with her brother to a menagerie, Isabella sees a dragon exhibit, where she meets Jacob, who happens to be on the list. He falls in love with her passion for science –well, really dragons. They marry. After a heartbreaking event, Jacob fully realizes his wife’s love of dragons. Isabella manages to convince Jacob to let her go with him on an expedition to study dragons. Something proper ladies just do not do. Once they arrive at their destination, they are confronted by mysteries. What has happened to their contact, who was supposed to meet them? Why are dragons, which normally ignore people, attacking them? Finding the answers will forever change Isabella.
I keep on using the word “beautiful” to describe A Natural History of Dragons. Yes, it has a strong female character. Yes, it has plenty of action and a well-developed mystery. Yes, it has likeable characters. But, what I experienced was a young woman with a passion, that ultimately brought her fulfillment but not without some major heartbreak. I’ve put this novel on my list of worthy award nominees for 2014.