Monday, October 10, 2016

I Am Not Writing from Beyond the Grave: Narrator in A Natural History of Dragons

I recently finished the first three novels in Marie Brennan's Memoirs by Lady Trent series: A Natural History of Dragons (2013), The Tropic of Serpents (2014), and Voyage of the Basilisk (2015).

Summary

Lady Trent, the world's foremost dragon naturalist, tells these stories about her pursuit of scientific research at the expense of her reputation. A Natural History of Dragons chronicles her trip to the mountains of Vystrana, when she was still Isabella Camherst, with her husband and others to study the dragons living there and the political and social implications of their discoveries.

I found the series enjoyable, if not necessarily exciting. The tone is similar to Novik's Temeraire series, in that the main character comes from a world governed by manners. I was also reminded of the Rain Wilds Chronicles' Alise Kincarrion, who was also bookish, obsessed with studying dragons, and plagued by social pressures. The dragons, though, do not exhibit human-like intelligence.

First Person Autobiographical Narrator

I was particularly intrigued by Brennan's use of the First Person Autobiographical narrator. Lady Trent is writing to interested fans the "true story" as opposed to the one they've read in tabloids.

Drawbacks

Such a narrator, by consequence of their age and wisdom in hindsight, takes something away from the suspense and excitement of a story. Especially when she says things like, "I am not writing this from beyond the grave." Lady Trent creates distance between the reader and the action, but also the reader and Isabella Camherst. Since Lady Trent often compares herself with her earlier character, the reader is forced to do the same, observing Isabella from without instead of investing in her personality and circumstances.

Benefits

However, Lady Trent does lend a sense that a larger world exists outside the story, which is a reliable world-building technique. Furthermore, her pragmatic sensibilities make a for a wonderful juxtaposition of realistic tone with fantastical content.

Conclusion

I am fond of Lady Trent's character, but I think the events of the stories would have been made more impactful without her constant reassurance that all will be well.

Nevertheless, Brennan's series is entertaining, and I am eager to read the last book, as soon as it comes from the library!

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