A Natural History of Dragons & Vegan Alfredo Sauce
A Natural History of Dragons is a memoir written by the famous Lady Trent, the world’s preeminent Dragon Naturalist. Marie Brennan brings us a fantasy book set in a world that is very much like our own in the Victorian era, with the exception of the existence of dragons.
Our young heroine, Isabella (Lady Trent), wants to be a part of a world she cannot, wishing to study dragons within the sphere of academia that her gender is denied. Through one part accident, and one part conscious scheming, Isabella finds herself pursuing and studying dragons, often pushing many limits of propriety in the process.
Isabella is narrating her memoir from the perspective of old age, often stopping for asides that relate to her retrospective opinions on her brash youth or comments to her editor. Their usefulness is that they paint a picture of not only who Isabella is at the time of the story, but who her character will become in old age. Old Isabella's two cents were a bit unnecessary for my taste, and often seemed condescending, a character trait we don't see much of in young Isabella.
I'm not sure the story needed the narrator constantly reminding us that she becomes wildly famous and well respected, or putting in crumbs to try and lead us past this book into the next volume, where she will indubitably continue the long and eventful tale that is her life. Unfortunately, some of the later adventures that are only hinted at in this book, seem much more interesting than the action we actually get to read in this volume.
The world of the book is Victorian, and the tone is as well. I enjoyed this book, but the pace of the pages is leisurely at best, slowly drawing us in, wandering through the narrative and only occasionally finding action. This book is certainly well written—which is what makes it enjoyable—but be forewarned that if you are looking for an action packed, dragon taming and riding adventure, you should look elsewhere.
The winning creature in this book ends up being Isabella herself—Isabella is brash and headstrong when she lets herself, a woman fighting her circumstances not consciously, but because her love of dragons demands it. This sort of “accidental” rebellion is what makes Isabella charming, and ultimately what gets her as close as she comes to dragons.
Ultimately, even with the lack of dragon focused action and Old Isabella's sometimes ornery injections, this book was still a fun and pleasant read. I much prefer this type of fantasy-Victorian fusion to the books that simply inject fantastical elements into existing Victorian literature. Brennan is skilled with her emulation of a Victorian memoir, and her world creation is delightful. Even in this world that is new to us, Brennan adeptly anchors the geography and nationalities in the world we are familiar with, so the reader can keep her primary focus on Isabella and her adventures.
The most fun part about The Natural History of Dragons is following around headstrong Isabella, a woman living a most alternative lifestyle in an age where women's limited roles were carefully scripted to be performed without deviation. So, for the recipe, it seemed only proper to tip a hat at all the vegan ladies out there.
Here's to the girls with the alternative lifestyles.
VEGAN CASHEW ALFREDO SAUCE
- 1 cup raw cashews (soak them in water for at least an hour, then drain)
- 1 1/4 cup boiling water (best to use starchy pasta-cooking water)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- pinch red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper (to taste)
Place raw cashews in a food processor and pulse until nuts are very fine. Carefully add in the boiling water; process until smooth.
Add the lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil; process again until smooth.
Move to a pan over medium heat, add red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to taste. Stir frequently until thick (3-5 minutes). (Note: for this step, I just wiped out the saute pan I had cooked my vegetables in and used that to avoid getting another pan dirty.)