Jo Walton – Tooth and Claw
Length: 332 pages
Genre: Definitely fantasy, sort of historical fiction, and kind of romance, as well. Victorian Fantasy, basically.
Started: 05 February 2010
Finished: 07 February 2010
Where did it come from? LibraryThing Secret Santa.
Why do I have it? See above.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 December 2009.
A comedy of
manners, complete with dragons
red in tooth and claw.
Summary: A father, who has worked his way up from humble origins to become part of the gentry, dies, leaving behind five children. The elder two are well established in society – the son as a parson of a well-respected estate, and the daughter married to a rich and powerful if rather boorish and ill-tempered nobleman. The younger three, however, are only beginning to make their way in society: a son who is engaged in business in the city, and two unmarried daughters. Upon their father’s death, the two sisters are sent to live with their siblings. One, who had previously narrowly escaped having a unpleasant marriage proposal forced on her, finds herself attracted to a young adventurer who is out of her league, given her station in society and her meager dowry. The other, appalled by her brother-in-law’s brutish behavior towards the servants and local tenants, secretly becomes a radical abolitionist. The younger son, meanwhile, is bringing suit against his brother-in-law over the matter of their father’s will, and the distribution of their inheritance.
Oh, did I mention that these are all dragons? Yeah.
Review: I’m sure Jane Austen would never have predicted the recent rash of Austenophilic sequels and retellings and spin-off novels, and I’m very sure that she would never have predicted one with dragons as protagonists. I certainly read the blurb on the back that called Tooth and Claw “the Pride and Prejudice of the dragon world” with raised eyebrows. But, to my great surprise, it totally worked. In fact, Walton makes traditional dragon lore fit into Victorian society conventions so well that I can’t believe that no one had ever done it before.
This novel was a little slow to start, but by the end it wound up completely charming me. In truth, the slow beginning is probably more my fault than the book’s, and might even be considered a strength rather than a weakness. Tooth and Claw is a Victorian novel not only in plot, but also in writing style, and it’s done quite effectively. However, Victorian language has a hard time making it from my eyes to my brain (which is why I tend to listen to the classics on audiobook rather than read them), so it took me a while to get accustomed to the flow and pace of the writing, and that kept me at arm’s distance from the story for a while. However, Walton builds her world and her characters so deftly that before too long I was totally engrossed.
One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about this book was how it simultaneously managed to sweep me up in the story, while never letting me forget that it was about dragons. I’d be reading along, totally caught up in battles over inheritance, and deathbed confessions, and romances between those from totally different stations in life, just as you would expect from any Victorian novel, and then I’d remember that the inheritance in question was the right of children to eat their deceased father, and the absurdity of the whole thing would catch up with me, and I’d start giggling uncontrollably. I think Walton was well aware of that contrast, and used it to great advantage; playing up the humor and dropping in the occasional sly narrative aside to let us know that she was laughing with us.
It has been baldly state in this narrative that Penn and Sher were friends at school and later at the Circle, and being gentle readers and not cruel and hungry readers who would visit a publisher’s offices with the intention of rending and eating an author who had displeased them, you have taken this matter on trust. (p. 264)
The only weak point I noticed was that a few of the characters were less developed than others. In a book with this large of a cast, that’s only to be expected, but I would have happily have read a longer book that had given everyone their full time to shine. Other than that, the multiple storylines were handled well; I thought each was compelling enough that switching between them never made me lose interest. Overall, although this book took a while to fully capture my attention, I enjoyed it immensely, and am so glad I stuck with it. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: The obvious recommendation is that people who like Naomi Novik’s books will almost certainly like this one, and vice-versa. I think fans of Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer’s style of historical fantasy will also get a kick out of Tooth and Claw. But actually, I’d even recommend this to Austen fans who don’t normally read fantasy… you might be surprised how well dragons fit into the Victorian world.
Other Reviews: Somewhat shockingly, I couldn’t find any. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: Bon Agornin writhed on his deathbed, his wings beating as if he would fly to his new life in his old body.
Cover Thoughts: Nicely understated, but I wish there was something about it that said “Victorian novel” a little more loudly.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 124: “It was a dim vault, barely half underground, half-filled with dragons, many of them with the bound wings of servitude, all of them small, hardly one of them longer than seven feet except the priest, who stood at the center of the narthex about to begin his service.” – an enclosed passage between the main entrance and the nave of a church.
- p. 234: ““Though Avan attacked me from behind and without warning I did swear to support him so I will not allow the words peculation or simony to pass my lips with respect to him.”” – embezzlement; the making of profit out of sacred things.