As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

December 21, 2010

TOOTH AND CLAW by Jo Walton, 2003

Tooth and Claw
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.

Review by Jessica Day George, Young Adult and Middle Grade Fantasy Author

People keep referring to this novel as "Jane Austen with dragons" which is misleading . . . it's not Jane Austen, it's Anthony Trollope, as Walton says in the acknowledgements. The difference? Well, for those of you who haven't read Trollope (myself included) this is a Victorian novel, not Regency. In fact, I thought the whole time that it had strong shades of Charles Dickens in it.

Family strife, extreme stress on rank and duty, wives giving up their personal preferences in order to support their husbands . . . it's all there. Only these are dragons. Dragons, talking about the suitability of this or that marriage, issues with their estate, as they feast on raw meat in a dining room that has blood gutters cut into the floor. Dragons, wearing respectable hats with little veils and turning down social engagements because they are in mourning.

It's genius, it's hilarious, it's moving, it's a true feat on the part of the author! Despite their physical and social differences from anything I'd encountered before, the characters were still endearing, or irritating, or angering. I was rooting for the young, nearly dowerless sisters to make good matches, pulling for Avan to successfully sue his brother-in-law for taking too much of his father's legacy . . . of course, that legacy was how much of his father the brother-in-law ATE.

The contrast between the staid respectability of the dragons and the fact that they ate their dead, and sometimes the living who were too weak, could have become ridiculous, but instead it made it all the more poignant. These are dragons, "red in tooth and claw", and yet they've backed themselves into a trap with their extreme manners and social mores. This is a truly gripping read, and I recommend it for anyone, whether or not you like "dragon books" or Jane Austen. Or Anthony Trollope (whose books I am now eager to try).

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild, mostly in discussion and relating to reputation (one of the dragons is a “fallen woman”).
Violence: Tearing apart raw meat at dinner, eating the dead and weaklings
Mature Themes: Cannibalism. Female reputations. Death during childbirth, er, egg-laying. Servants’ rights.

Book formats:
Tooth and Claw (hardcover)
Tooth and Claw (paperback)

To learn more about the author, visit: Jo Walton

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