Completed 8/22/2014, Reviewed 8/25/2014
I saw Jo Walton at Powell’s on the promo tour for her latest book. She’s a warm person with a smart sense of humor. Before the evening began I saw her with her trademark hat, perusing the novelty socks carousel in the non-book merchandise area, recognizing her from her profile on the Worlds Without End site as I nearly ran into the literary action figure display, rubber-necking like a star-struck tweener. While of course there’s no reason an award winning author shouldn’t be looking at fun socks, the juxtaposition was startling and caught me by surprise, and so did her amazing novel “Tooth and Claw”.
The Agornins are a well-respected land-owning family of rank. When the patriarch dies on his comfortable but not terribly large bed of gold, the family is thrown into turmoil as the eldest daughter’s husband eats a large portion of the patriarch. The three youngest children finding this incredibly unfair in light of the patriarch’s wishes that they receive the majority of the estate, assuming he also meant to include his nourishing body, not just the gold. The conflict arising from the son-in-law’s heinous breach in manners throws this Victorian family into chaos, threatening their already tottering rank in polite society. Oh, did I mention the Agornins are dragons?
“Tooth and Claw” is a tale of manners transposed on a Victorian-like society of dragons. It has all the elements of an Austin or Bronte novel but with a beautifully constructed universe where dragons live separate from humans in their own society with their own class system. Walton does an amazing job seamlessly interweaving the dragon fantasy with all drama of the dowries, inheritance, and manners. The dialogue is tight and the character interaction is so human, that you’re almost startled when a tear runs down Haner’s snout, when Selendra wakes from a restful sleep on her comfortable bed of gold, or when Daverak eats one of the servants. It’s at points like these that you realize just how seamless the two genres have been blended.
I have to admit that I’ve never read any Austin or Bronte…but I’ve seen “Sense and Sensibility” with Emma Thompson! (The reviewer blushes, with eyes downcast) Nor have I read any of the Quirk book sendups like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. In fact, Walton’s book came out six years before the parodies. But I don’t really consider this a parody. It’s much more thoughtful blending of two genres, not just to get a laugh. The story is dark with topics like the evils of the class system and questioning the true worth of a person.
At the same time, the book is fun. There’s a lot of tongue in cheek humor that keeps the family dynamic from getting too soapy. There’s a search in a great mountain for treasure, and there are often references to an earlier time when dragons were kidnapping princesses and fighting knights.
I really loved this book. When I was done, I had a physical rush, wanting to jump up and down and shout, “Hey, everybody, you HAVE to read this!” It’s dark, fun, and terribly readable. Having read two of her books now, I have come to regard Jo Walton as one of my favorite authors. My mother-in-law has already downloaded her “Small Change” trilogy, so I’ll probably be diving into that soon. 5 stars out of 5.