Just for fun, I decided to round out what’s somehow turned into an official “Jo Walton Week” here at Far Beyond Reality by posting my old review of Tooth and Claw, following my earlier reviews of Among Others and Walton’s brand new collection of Tor.com blog posts What Makes This Book So Great.
Note: When I say “old review”, I mean it. It goes back about five years now. I merely present it here to complete my trio of Jo Walton reviews, and maybe partially to show how much my style as a reviewer has changed over the years.
(Also note: I read this book well before the whole Pride And Prejudice And Zombies/Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter trend started. Looking at it now, it’s clear that Jo Walton was on to what turned out to be a very popular concept with this novel.)
Bon Agornin, patriarch of a well-off family, is on his death bed. His family has gathered around him, including his oldest son Penn, who is a country parson, and Avan, the younger brother who is making his way up in the bureaucracy of the capital city. Also there are his unmarried daughters Haner and Selendra, and oldest daughter Berend, who is married to Daverak, a young nobleman. When Daverak claims a large part of Bon’s wealth, a complex family drama starts, involving an inheritance battle and the search for suitable matches for the young daughters.
So far, fairly standard plotting for a Jane Austen novel. The twist here is that every character in Tooth and Claw is a dragon, and the wealth of the dying dragon doesn’t only include his hoard of gold but also the flesh of his body, which dragon children traditionally eat to grow in strength.
When I read the reviews for this novel, I couldn’t have been less excited. First of all, I try to avoid fantasy with dragons because I think they are the oldest cliché in the book, and secondly, it simply sounded too gimmicky.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. Tooth and Claw is expertly written in the Victorian style, including third person omniscient POV with the occasional authorial side-step (“Dear reader, at this point you are probably surprised by…” and so on). Aside from a strange fondness for run-on sentences, Jo Walton does a great job impersonating Jane Austen. She also paints a realistic dragon society (yes, I know), including religion, social values, and even some social upheaval on the horizon.
After a few chapters, it somehow seemed normal to be reading Pride and Prejudice with dragons. To my surprise, I ended up enjoying Tooth and Claw tremendously.
This review was originally posted on January 5th, 2009, at my ancient, long-defunct LiveJournal, which I’m NOT linking to here. It was also posted at Fantasy Literature on August 30th, 2009.