002. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
Publication: Tor Books (April 1, 2010), ebook, 333pp / ISBN 0765319519
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction sort of?, Alt. History as well!
Read: January 1-2, 2011
Source: Bought (Dec. 25, 2010)
Like most books I buy, it’s been so long since I bought this one– over a year!– that all I could remember about Tooth and Claw was that it had dragons. And, well, yeah, it’s got dragons. But it’s got a lot of other stuff, as well!
The dragon aspect is pretty central, though. If Tooth and Claw starred humans rather than dragons, then it’d be a Victorian-esque historical romance with all the trappings that genres comes with: family issues, women being trapped and yet somehow still in charge of their own destinies, the danger of lost virtues and the regaining thereof, and basically everything else you’d find in a Jane Austen novel1.
Lest you be sucked into a false assumption that this is a comfortable book, the main issue behind everything going on in T&C is the fact that dragons eat each other. They eat their family members. They eat employees and servants. They eat other dragons they defeat in battle– although that’s rare. And this eating each other? Is something I found deeply disturbing.
I’m not alone in this, right? I mean, it’s completely disgusting and really weird for people/dragons to eat each other, even if it’s okay by basically everyone and even if it makes them stronger. I kept trying to convince myself that it’s a part of their culture and I should accept it for what it is, but in the back of my mind “they’re eating each other!” spun like a really bad song stuck on repeat. It made for an interesting reading experience! And I actually kind of liked that. I liked being challenged when I read a book sometimes, especially when it’s by a book that you wouldn’t normally expect that sort of thing from.
Anyway, besides that whole thing, Tooth and Claw is extremely fun to read. I love Victorian/Jane Austen-ish romances, especially when they have interesting characters in them. I also like rooting for people to get together or for the baddies to get their comeuppance2 and happy endings where everyone gets married appeal directly to the soft, squishy part of me that adores stuff like that.3
So: if you like fantasy books, especially ones with dragons, and if you like romance novels, especially ones with Victorian stuff in them, then you’d no doubt love Tooth and Claw. It’s got just a hint of unease to it that makes it almost completely different from other fantasy romances, and if you like books that poke you somewhere uncomfortable then Tooth and Claw is, again, the book for you. Personally, I liked it because of the dragons, the romance, the whole Victorian social thing, and the happy ending4 which made me squee with happiness.
I’ve since gotten over the “we eat each other” thing, but it was pretty uncomfortable there for a while.
Fyrefly’s Book Blog: “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.”
things mean a lot: “By the way, if you’re wondering what exactly makes this story fantasy, that would be the fact that all the characters are dragons. But don’t let that make you doubt their humanity or emotional complexity, or the intricacies of their social world. I suppose that more than anything else, Tooth and Claw is a fantasy of manners (a term I learned from Memory and absolutely love). It’s a social comedy, a Victorian romance, and an absolutely delightful story.”
The Literary Omnivore: “I’ve never read any Anthony Trollope, much to my shame, but the plotting reminded me a great deal of Austen. Female dragons must marry because they lack claws and thus cannot battle to defend themselves or for status, which is like the raised marriage stakes for the Bennet girls in Pride & Prejudice. If you have any Regency or Victorian reader friends who need to be turned to the fantastical, this is the book to do it. But this comparison cuts both ways. While it’s quite compelling as a unique family drama, it’s not exactly a thrilling page turner. It’s downright cozy, as I find most of Austen’s work.”
The author’s photo comes from Goodreads. It’s not mine! Book cover comes from Amazon. It’s not mine, either.
- although Austen is, of course, Regency and not Victorian. In fact, if it weren’t for the hats and social progress going on I’d think Tooth & Claw more Regency than Victorian. ↩
- I should mention I don’t normally root for people to die, though. ↩
- I hope that wasn’t a spoiler. Everyone HAS to get married at the end; it’s not a romance if they don’t! ↩
- which I still say isn’t a spoiler. ↩