Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Natural History of Dragons

Oh, Marie Brennan's book was so, so close to making my list of the best of the year. Victorian gentlewoman goes off adventuring for scientific study of dragons? Fabulous. Made even better by its form as a memoir, written by Isabella in her old age, so she can reflect back on her earlier actions (often with a shake of the head and a rueful, "the tender age of nineteen..."). The narrative voice is what totally makes this novel; I couldn't put it down. And that glorious cover!

But. Oh, how I wish there weren't a but! Though nominally a fantasy world, with different names for countries and religions, it's basically Victorian England, which means it's basically the British Empire, which means imperialism. And while I give books of their time a pass for being of their time, a contemporary author writing for modern readers ought to acknowledge problematic aspects like colonialism rather than glorifying imperialist views of those poor ugly peasants who don't even make good servants.

I'm definitely going to read the next two in the series, and hopefully they get a bit better. Hopefully Isabella learns a bit about privilege and oppression, but I don't hold out much hope, because if she were going to, the older-self narrator would have already absorbed these important lessons.

So close!

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