Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.
"A Natural History of Dragons" chronicles Lady Trent's early years and her first expedition, leaving plenty of space for future volumes. Thankfully, the story has a satisfactory conclusion rather than leaving the readers with a cliff-hanger as some first-of-a-series books do. The characterizations of various characters other than Lady Trent (and perhaps her husband) are somewhat two-dimensional and the I felt the pacing of the plot was a bit rushed at the end compared to the rest of the book, but the saucy narrative makes the book hard to put down.
A Natural History of Dragons is something more concise, rigorous and formal–it is a memoir of the beginning of her life and career. Isabella’s childhood and early fascination with dragons is winningly and convincingly drawn. While this is a memoir, and not an autobiography, I feel confident that much of what the Lady Trent describes, from growing up and preserving her first Sparkling, to her first marriage, to Jacob Camherst, and the expedition to Vystrana that fills the majority of the book has the ring of truth. Vystrana is still a wild, distant land even now, and especially, then. Her adventures, then, when she heads upriver on the expedition with her husband is as much travelogue and slice-of-life as an exploration into the nature of the dragons of that region. She also captures the scientific endeavor so very well, showing the process of discovery of basic facts about dragons and their lifestyle that you, the reader, take for granted now.
A Natural History of Dragons is the first in what looks to be a long series of fictionalized memoirs of Isabella, Lady Trent, a dragon naturalist. In this book, Isabella briefly takes readers through her childhood, courtship and marriage, then moves on to spend the bulk of the pages describing her first scientific expedition: from her quasi-English homeland to the quasi-Eastern-European mountains. Very little is known about dragons in this world, and Isabella and her companions seek them out with limited success, while meanwhile she must struggle against the restrictive gender expectations of her time.