Sunday, October 9, 2022

The Intrepid Lady Scholar


have a significant soft spot for nineteenth-century women adventurers, both historical and fictional. From Lady Anne Blunt to Amelia Peabody, I’m there for the character, and I’m intrigued by her story. Marie Brennan’s Lady Isabella Trent is a worthy addition to the company, with a very special bonus: dragons.

I have, so far, read only the first volume of the five. It’s very much a prologue, an introduction to the world and the protagonist, and it’s constructed as a memoir. The framing device of the much older Lady Trent looking back on her early life allows for a nice balance of reminiscence and immediate experience. We get to know the young Isabella as she lives through her various adventures, but we also get the perspective of the far wiser and more experienced older version.

It’s clear that this is meant to be a multi-volume series. What happens in this volume to a large extent is setup and introduction. Young Isabella is the only girl in a family of six children, brought up on a country estate in the secondary-world kingdom of Scirland.

Her aristocratic parents are quite conventional. Her mother adheres strictly to the role expected of a woman in upper-class society. Her father is somewhat remote and occasionally indulgent. All but one of her brothers are pretty much not in the picture; the one who is shares in and sometimes encourages her escapades.

Isabella does not fit well into the mold of the proper young female. All she wants out of life is to study dragons. She chafes at the tight restrictions on her physical and intellectual freedom, sometimes bursting out with unhappy results, as when she dresses up as a boy to join in the hunt for a dragon that has been preying on local livestock.

This episode causes her to be locked down for two years, until she can make her debut in the big city and, everyone hopes, hunt down and secure a suitably wealthy and respectable husband. During that time, she redirects her passion about dragons to the obsessive study of horses. But that’s purely a distraction from the tedium of life as a proper female. She has no real passion and little liking or understanding for the substitute species. It’s just a way of keeping her scientific skills in tune. (Read more.)


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