In the first part of A Natural History of Dragons, we meet a very young Isabella, and this reader falls in swoony love with everything.
Content note: for mention of miscarriage.
NEW DRAGONS. FRESH ADVENTURES. After the regrettable end to our recent Temeraire reading experience, Team Muskedragon still wanted dragony goodness, but we wanted more and better. We wanted the fun back that we’d first fallen for, and it looks like Lady Trent is set to deliver it.
There are perhaps some obvious similarities between this and the world of Temeraire – the existence/involvement of dragons, though here that isn’t so overt (yet); and the ‘historical’ setting, but rather than alternate history, this is a secondary-world fantasy setting with a very period feel. It’s more like Temeraire crossed with Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories – which could not be more pleasing to me. I adore Mary’s series, and the familiar feel here did a lot to make me feel at home while reading this book.
On the subject of the secondary world, also, there are some interesting similarities drawn between Isabella’s homeland of Scirland and my own (Scotland) that please me immensely. She’s the fantasy equivalent of a Scottish noblewoman and nothing can persuade me otherwise.
And that’s just the very start of the reasons I am quickly coming to love Isabella. The novel begins, as the ‘Memoir’ part of the series title suggests, with a preface by the elderly Lady Trent herself; whatever happened in her younger years, as these books will recount, it’s clear that she’s survived it all with her passion and notable good humour intact. I ‘hear’ her voice as being very Professor McGonagall, which I am 100% at peace with. You can’t beat Maggie Smith. At anything.
The recollection of her earliest years, from her first fascination with sparklings (wee tiny dragons, basically) to her discovery of a passion for science, particularly the study of dragons, takes us from Isabella’s childhood to her young adulthood, and into what is apparently only the first of her marriages, given that her first husband’s name is Camherst. It’s in the details of her relationship with Jacob Camherst, in fact, that the comparison to The Glamourist Histories deepens for me. I love those books for Kowal’s portrayal of the relationship between her protagonist couple; here, there are heartwarming shades of the same kind of flawed, occasionally fraught but always sincere relationship being built between Isabella and Jacob. They bond over shared interests, and they seem to relate to one another on an important and instinctive level before they decide to marry. The difficulties of making a relationship work don’t end there, but nor do their efforts. I fell completely for Jacob when he realises that the things that make Isabella so confounding and ‘difficult’ in the eyes of others are the very things about her that are most endearing to him, and that refusing to stifle those qualities in her is the truest way he knows to make her happy.
This is key to an important development, when the trauma of a miscarriage leaves Isabella lost in depression. Jacob’s gentle encouragement of her childhood hobbies is what eventually draws her out of it, and I am so here for gentle, thoughtful, selfless husband Jacob. So here.
I want more of this kind of thing in my romantic fiction, please. Much, much more.
… And that’s how Isabella’s first marriage led to her ending up included in an expedition to the harsh and far-flung territories where dragons are thought to still live.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE SHOW US LIVING BREATHING DRAGONS OF UNUSUAL SIZE.
I need them. And I need Science!Isabella giving the menfolk heart attacks with her bravery and curiosity and her Need To Know All The Things. No room for trepidation here, it seems.
Jolly good. Onward!