A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Fantastic. Not the drawing-room novel I feared it would be, nor the swashbuckling “strong woman” archetype book it could have been. Instead, it’s a wonderful travelogue for a nineteenth century populated by fantastical creatures.

This was a quick read, but I still managed to learn some things about writing:

  • It’s possible to convey a lot about the historical treatment of women without depicting brutality (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones). It’s enough to hear the narrator rail against the constraints she’s placed under, or feel her frustration at having to pretend to not be an intelligent, scientifically curious person.
  • You can invoke a time period’s writing without indulging in that period’s techniques. The book is written with a modern style — short sentences built into short paragraphs that live in short chapters — but still feels like it came out of an alternate Victorian period.
  • A memoir can lose tension because we know the narrator makes it through. One way to push tension back into the story is to take advantage of the fact that the narrator knows more than the reader, and have them drop in sentences that foreshadow future tragedy or triumph.