Tooth and Claw: Pride and Prejudice with Dragons

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Jo Walton Tooth and ClawTooth and Claw by Jo Walton

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.

Tooth and Claw — (2003) Publisher: A tale of love, money, and family conflict — among dragons. A family deals with the death of their father. A son goes to court for his inheritance. Another son agonises over his father’s deathbed confession. One daughter becomes involved in the abolition movement, while another sacrifices herself for her husband. And everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw. Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses… in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which the great and the good 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.

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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

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