Blog Tour: A Natural History of Dragons + Q&A

Today I am happy to be a stop on the A Natural History of Dragons blog tour, hosted by Tor! This book definitely caught my attention early on, and the read -- well, you'll get to my review in a moment. On the books today: my review and an interview with author Marie Brennan. So grab a drink and enjoy the read!

A Natural History of Dragons
Marie Brennan
Tor, 2013

How to describe this book ... It's a (fictional) memoir, of a proper young gentlemwoman with a distinctly improper fascination with science. Specifically: dragons. Thankfully, in a purely accidental (and somewhat mortifying, in terms of being a proper young lady in Society) manner, this fascination resulted in her finding the perfect husband. Not only did he share her interest in the mysterious dragons, but he encouraged her research. Which is how they both ended up joining a dragon search party into the wilds. One part Victorianesque novel, one part tongue-in-cheek memoir, one part natural history text, A Natural History of Dragons is all parts delight.

Labratory, by Todd Lockwood
Isabella is a girl after my own heart: she just can't help being true to herself, even when it means treading on the lines designated for her by Society. She's spunky and clever and gifted -- she has an eye for scientific observation that comes in rather handle. As does her insatiable curiosity (or is it simple nosiness?). In creating Isabella's world, Brennan has done a masterful job of mimicking Victorian society, while placing it in a world wholly not our own. I mean, there are dragons in this world. Granted, they're still rather mysterious and unknown, but that's the whole point of the read: the delightful willing suspension of disbelief as we, as readers, accompany Isabella and Company on their quest to learn more about dragons. There's a science-y flavor, a human-character study, and a story that kept me up reading way too late. Plus, there are simply gorgeous illustrations throughout the novel.

Book provided by publisher for review.

And now, I was able to do an interview with Marie, which I am happy to share with you!

The first question that immediately came to my mind is simply: Why dragons?
 Because the sources that inspired me -- the Dragonology calendars and the D&D supplement Draconomicon -- were about dragons. Had they been talking about some other magical creature, this might have been A Natural History of Unicorns instead.
 Or maybe not; dragons do have an appeal that nothing else can quite match. Vampires and werewolves and faeries and so on are all humanoid to one degree or another, but when you look at the more animal-type creatures, nothing can really compete with dragons.
Was it difficult to create the 'science' of dragons? Or did the unknowns in the story help your creating process?
The hardest part of it is convincing myself that I’ve invented enough to pass. I need the science to be plausible enough that I can talk about what Isabella’s doing and have it hold together; if my protagonist is going to be a natural historian, I need her research to be a meaningful part of the story, not a side note that mostly gets ignored. But at the same time, dragons aren’t biologically plausible. So I have to trust that readers will accept a few notes about bone structure and clever wing design and so on, without getting stuck on the fact that nothing that big could really fly.
Sparkling, by Todd Lockwood
The fun part, though, is connecting the dragons to their environment. I’ve finished a draft of the second book, and it has savannah-dwelling dragons whose appearance and behavior are based on cheetahs, as well as swamp-dwelling dragons based on crocodiles.

Natural History of Dragons has a wonderfully Victorian feel -- do you read a lot of Victorian works?
 I had read some when I first came up with the idea, and read a great deal more in the course of working on With Fate Conspire, my previous novel. That’s a historical fantasy set in Victorian London, so it was easy to step sideways from that to a secondary world modeled on the same period. But a fair amount of credit should also go to my research for the novel before that, A Star Shall Fall. That one takes place in the Georgian period -- each of the Onyx Court books is set in a different century -- but it’s heavily focused on the Enlightenment and the early development of modern science. It gave me a good sense of whose shoulders Isabella would be standing on when she sets out to do her fieldwork.

When you write, do you listen to music or have any other "background/atmosphere" preferences?
Music, always. I make playlists for each project I’m working on -- usually multiple playlists, to suit different parts of the story. For this one I assembled a bunch of scores from pulp adventure and dragon-related movies (How to Train Your Dragon has a fabulous score), plus Eastern European music to fit the Vystrani setting. Then I sorted those into “romantic,” “adventurous,” and “creepy” playlists, plus one for sort of casual village life. And then when I was done, I assembled a soundtrack out of those playlists, as if making a score for the novel. You can find the track listing for that here -- though be warned that it may contain hints of spoilers!

What is your favorite dragon book or movie?
I have a deep-seated love for Pern. Telepathic teleporting dragons who let you ride around on them? I would absolutely sign up for that.

What is your favorite snack and/or drink to enjoy while reading?
I try not to let myself munch while reading; I’m liable not to stop. I mostly drink water -- very boring, I know. But on a cold or rainy day, my hot drink vice of choice is really high-end hot chocolate.

Books-to-movies are increasingly popular right now -- do you prefer to read the book or see the movies first?
No strong preference, really. For things outside speculative fiction, I’ll often watch the movie when the book wouldn’t interest me at all; for things inside the genre, it’s not uncommon for me to have read the book before the movie even comes out. If I had to choose, though, I’d probably go for the movie first. Books can, by their nature, include a lot more detail than films can, so the novel is likely to flesh out my understanding of the story. If I go the other direction, I’m more likely to be sad about all the things that had to be simplified or cut out to keep the movie’s run-time down. 

Thanks for indulging the somewhat random nature of my questions, Marie!

If you'd like to learn more about Marie or the book, check out these sites:
By Marie Brennan (Website, Twitter, Goodreads)
A Tor Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3196-0
On Sale: February 5, 2013
Available here:
Powells, Walmart, Overstock

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