I'm a sucker for anything to do with dragons, from Game Of Thrones to Tamora Pierce's stuff to Dragonology. The gorgeous cover of this book instantly caught my eye, as did the blurb. It's that rare kind of book you just know you are going to enjoy.
And enjoy it I did. The narrator, who tells her story as a memoir, has an instantly likeable voice. The story is set in a fictional Victorian-like world, perhaps a little bare-boned, but suitably fleshed out for the plot. Victorian mores rule; our indomitable narrator yearns to break free of social constraints, and realise her childhood dream: studying dragons.
So much care has been put into giving life to the dragons in this book, from their appearances to their behaviour to their physiology. There's no romanticism of them; many stories gift dragons with an intelligence comparable to humans, but here they are presented much more as animal, something I found refreshingly different.
The Victorian-style setting really does enhance the story, enriching the narrator's witty voice and providing the sense of a world teetering on the cusp of industrialisation, something that will surely come into conflict with the existence of the dragons (indeed, in the story, they are already said to have declined or be declining in many parts of the world). The book even manages to make itself relevant to our own real, contemporary world - at one point, the narrator defends herself and her fellow researchers for shooting a dragon for the purposes of scientific study, and argues how hypocritical her countrymen are for decrying the killing of animals abroad which at home they would not hesitate to kill for their own comfort or safety.
The plot is, probably, the weakest component of the book, if only because the others are so strong. This is one of those stories which is as much about the characters as the dragons, meaning that there were not quite enough dragons for me. The focus in the latter half of the book was almost a murder mystery, with a wholly human core. But the ending was sufficiently tied up, and holds plenty of promise for a sequel, which I expect the author (the real-life one) to produce!
It would be a crime to review this book without mentioning the drawings. There are a number of them interspersed through the book, most of them of dragons. They're wonderful to look at, and only enhance the reader's experience.