Why I Read It: So the only reason I picked up this book, once upon a time ago, was that I found it while browsing through Hasting’s bargain book bin. Sure, it had a dragon on it, which was a strike at the time for me because I was so tired of dragons, but Jo Walton was the writer, and I hadn’t read anything by her and really wanted to because I’d heard such good things. So I picked it up and it’s been suffering in my TBR pile ever since. The only reason it was rescued was because Tooth and Claw was selected for the Women of Fantasy book club at Jawas Read, Too!, so there was no reason not to give it a go.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: Here is a tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, a son who goes to court for his inheritance, a son who agonizes over his father’s deathbed confession, a daughter who falls in love, a daughter who becomes involved in the abolition movement, and a daughter sacrificing herself for her husband.
Here is what sounds for all the world like an enjoyable Victorian novel, perhaps by Anthony Trollope…except that everyone in the story is a dragon, red in tooth and claw.
Here are politics and train stations, churchmen and family retainers, courtship, and country houses…in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which society’s high and mighty members avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby.
You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. It’s a short book and what surprises there are, I don’t want to ruin them. However, if you’re paranoid or in a hurry, just skip to my rating and you’ll be fine!
Discussion: I’ll be honest: I was really nervous about reading this book. For starters, there’s the aforementioned dragon aversion. But then I was told that this was basically a Jane Austen-esque story told with dragons, which was a warning for me, as my friend knew I didn’t have much patience for that particular writing style. So honestly, if not for Jawas’ Women of Fantasy, I might’ve never gotten around to this book.
And it would’ve been a shame, because it was so delightful and fun.
I think this is one of those cases where knowing what I was in for really helped. If I hadn’t known about the Victorian feel of the book, I might’ve been put off by it. But because I’d been well-informed, and because I read the notes from the author at the start of the book, I was well-prepared. And I’ll admit, it took a little while to get used to. The dragon-culture was, at first, a little odd. The whole notion of eating other dragons, and by doing so, that makes you more powerful? Weird. But Walton handles it with such aplomb that you can’t help but go along with it, especially since it’s so central to the main conflict of the story.
And then I got a little more dragon culture: I love, love, LOVE the whole color-changing scales part of Walton’s world-building. It was so creative, so clever, and I loved the kind of Scarlet Letter element to it, where one’s indiscretions could be public for all to see. Of course, most pink-scaled dragons are brides, but I loved how if a female dragon is cornered, if she’s touched by a male, she blushes, and that blush means you must marry the suitor, unless you get creative.
That, too, provided for some great tension in the story. And a great moment of satisfaction in a court room scene, but I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers.
Also disgusting was learning how dragons can die in childbirth, something I’d never given any thought to whatsoever, but upon learning, I was adequately disgusted but pleased by the simpleness of it.
And maybe I’m dense, but it took me forever to realize what the Yarge really were until the very end of the book.
Lastly, because really, this isn’t a review so much as a babble: I love how the omniscient narrator has a sense of humor as well, as part 60 is labeled “The Narrator is forced to confess to having lost count of both proposals and confessions.” That’s just fun. I will say, though, that while I’m sure Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series is rife with mistakes about the Victorian period, let alone the writing style, reading those books paved the way for me to be able to enjoy this one. And for that I’m grateful.
My Rating: 8 – Excellent
I’m still surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It’s delightful, fun, and clever, and who knew I’d be saying such things about Victorian dragons? But the story was very enjoyable, the characters appropriate to their station in that you adored the good guys and wanted the bad guys to meet a dreadful end. The plotting is really solid, and the world-building makes the plotting even stronger, because the story couldn’t happen without Walton’s clever little world-building details, and that’s just a joy. A fantasy that’s unique and highly recommended, especially for fans of Victorian-esque novels who have a bit of a sense of humor. Because seriously: dragons in a Victorian setting? You definitely have to have a bit of a sense of humor. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Cover Commentary: I managed to pick up the original hardcover in the bargain bin, and it’s colorful and appropriate. I like the simple pose of the dragon (married female, of course) on the cover. The paperback cover is more generic seen behind the cut, and really doesn’t convey the flavor or the tone of the book. So thumbs up for the hardcover art!