Author’s Website: http://www.swantower.com/
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Marie-Reine
*Beware of possible Spoilers*
This book is a memoir of the beginnings of a remarkable scientist and her first foreign expedition. Isabella, Lady Trent, the world’s preeminent expert on dragons, takes the reader through the early evolution of her obsession with the species. As a child, she devours all writings on the subject—though these are scant and lacking in details. She collects all manner of creatures. But all these pursuits are quite unladylike, and she must give them up. Later she marries Jacob Camherst, who allows her obsession to roam freely. With him, she goes on her first expedition to the Bohemian mountains of Vystrana where she must fight irascible dragons and hostile villagers, as well as her own meddling curiosity and unfortunate impulsiveness.
Like many books in the fantasy genre, the story itself takes place in an alternative (but mirrored) world, where dragons fly the skies. Marie Brennan, the author, weaves in some explanations for the various cultural or scientific events that a reader of that world would normally be aware of. However, this is not heavy-handed and much is left to the reader’s imagination. Brennan pulls back the curtain on a world that stirs the imagination and all that is needed is a guide, which she provides in her leading lady.
The protagonist, Isabella, lives in Victorian life where much stands in the way of women who wish to be natural scientists or worst, dragon experts. She is headstrong and determined, almost to a fault. Rarely taking care for her own safety, she pushes against the constraints of society in her native homeland, Scirland, and also on the expedition abroad. But the reader can only delight at her foolishness because it brings about the most interesting adventures. Writing about her youth with some objectivity afforded by age, many asides and commentaries pepper her memoir. She self-deprecatingly recounts the misfortunes that befall the expedition, and her own part in derailing it at times.
The pacing of this story carries the reader easily from cover to cover, and adds an interesting scientific dimension to the dragon genre. Isabella is an earnest narrator and does not shy away from any topic, making this a complex narrative. Multifaceted and entertaining, this novel is enjoyable from start to finish and would delight any mystery, Victorian, or fantasy reader.