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Tooth and Claw (2003)

by Jo Walton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,3528810,860 (3.85)196
A tale of contention over love and money - among dragons. Jo Walton returns with a very different kind of fantasy story: the tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, of a son who goes to law 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. Except that everyone in the story 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 society's high-and-mighty members avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby.… (more)
  1. 40
    Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (InfoQuest)
    InfoQuest: As Walton notes in the book's introduction, Trollope's Framley Parsonage provides some of the plot and characters for Tooth and Claw and is a very good Victorian novel (of the Barsetshire series, though it can easily stand alone).
  2. 40
    A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (MyriadBooks)
    MyriadBooks: For the Victorian setting, with dragons.
  3. 30
    Soulless by Gail Carriger (MyriadBooks)
    MyriadBooks: For Victorian heroines of inhuman nature.
  4. 30
    Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (Herenya)
  5. 20
    The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (octopedingenue)
  6. 00
    Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott (beyondthefourthwall)
    beyondthefourthwall: Well-developed thought-experiments about slightly alternative societies, partially satirising Victorian Britain.
  7. 11
    The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett (Mint.ChocolateOcelot)
    Mint.ChocolateOcelot: Tooth and Claw is similar to Magicians & Mrs. Quent because of the Society of it. Things like marrying outside your social class, fancy parties, and where Mr. So-and-so was last night are all issues that characters in both books face. Unless you don't care for books with human characters, I think if you enjoyed Tooth and Claw, you will enjoy The Magicians and Mrs. Quent… (more)
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» See also 196 mentions

English (83)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  German (1)  All languages (87)
Showing 1-5 of 83 (next | show all)
I would give this more stars if I could. I LOVED it. ( )
  maryellencg | Jan 8, 2022 |
It's just like a Victorian novel, but about dragons! So perfect! ( )
  jollyavis | Dec 14, 2021 |
I read this straightaway after enjoying Among Others so much. It is quite a different book, but still enjoyable. The best way to describe it is like Downton Abbey except with Dragons. ( )
  quickmind | Nov 26, 2021 |
A Jane Austen novel...where all the characters are dragons!

This book ended up being a lot of fun, but it took some time to grow on me. I must admit, I had my feminist defenses up with the author's note in the acknowledgements that, "This novel is the result of wondering what a world would be like if [women were the way they're described in Victorian novels], if the axioms of the sentimental Victorian novel were inescapable laws of biology." Why would anyone want to write that story?

And folks, be warned, because pretty early on there's a scene of, essentially, sexual assault. Female dragons "blush" when they get flustered in a male's presence, especially if that male is touching them--and the flustering doesn't have to be in the pleasant, warm-and-fuzzy way. This is not Victorian, this is absolutely horrifying--the thought that your life could be over because of a single unwanted social interaction. Imagine if Elizabeth Bennet had been forced to marry George Wickham just because she enjoyed his company. Well, guess that wouldn't have happened, because he'd have been married off to Georgiana Darcy, regardless of her "actual" virginity. What a nightmare!

Once the Agornin children have headed their separate ways after their father's funeral, that's when world building really kicks in. It's remarkable how little information there is in the first chapters. It takes quite a bit of time to learn that hats are, apparently, a really big deal--you'd think that would have been mentioned sooner? Oh, and dragons live in caves. Okay, but how does that work for manor houses? Cities? I didn't know until close to the end that cities had buildings above the ground at all--until then I'd been imagining them that way because I had nothing else to go on.

Basically, I wish that the whole book had the strength of, say, the middle. The details of world building take too long to put into place, considering that the reader has no real starting point. Are we supposed to imagine these dragons wearing clothes? Do servants polish banisters?

I say all this, but I really got into the book once it got going, once the unfortunately necessary foundation at the funeral that could have been described a great deal better is built. Then the characters are great, the dragon legal system is interesting, and the mystery of the slowly identifiable Yarges surfaces every so often.

For a novel modeled on a Victorian novel, it's great--a wonderfully complex Dickensian plot, unbearable Austenian relatives, and blossoming Hardyesque social awareness. Deaths are handled with Brotesque efficiency and the dastardly villain gets his comeuppance.

I get the sense (or perhaps I just hope) that the fact that some female dragons do hunt with spears means that there's an opening for an eventual women's rights movement. Just because the author went out of their way to create a world in which women are as inferior as they were believed to be in the 1800s doesn't mean I'm going to roll over and accept it!

Quote Round Up

p 18: Parsons should walk, all the time, even when inconvenient, and this Frelt diligently did. He wished he had someone with him to be impressed, or someone waiting for him at home to bring him a drink and admire his fortitude and exclaim over the distance he had walked. A wife.
Ah, the parody of religiosity. At least we have Penn, so we can enjoy Frelt's less-than-sincere piety for the satire that it is.

p 76: "I don't think you realize how different it is for me than for you. You can make your way by your own wits and claws, while I must always be dependent on some male to protect me. Wits I may have, but claws I am without, and while hands are useful for writing and fine work they are no use in battle."
An example of internal inconsistency, since the Yarge have clearly demonstrated that one does not need size and claws to be lethal. But I did appreciate Hanar calling Avan out here--so often men don't understand what it is women go through, overlooking intersectional factors like racism and religious discrimination almost willfully. Avan will have seen female dragons every day that are smaller and not equipped for battle, and depended on his own size to get his way, and yet he still doesn't think of the trouble that his case will case his sisters until they sit down and walk him through it.

p 107: "You know I don't approve of female hunting," Penn said. "If Veld had meant them to hunt, he would have given them claws."
"Do you think they starved in the days before the Conquest?" Sher asked, heatedly, for this was a matter on which he had decided opinions. "Some of the best hunters in Tiamath are female...! It was weapons that drove off the Yarge after the Conquest, after our bare claws proved insufficient."
So interesting how this nugget of information isn't applied in everyday life. There are females, there are peasants, all of them significantly smaller than the well-to-do males. I get the sense that it's only a matter of time until a peasant uprising.

p 157: I was glad to see this side of Berend. It's all too easy in Victorian novels (in much media these days, actually) to villainize the woman who's just trying to make her way in the messed up world she lives in. She's seen as lesser because she works with the system instead of bucking it. No, that doesn't make what Berend says any less horrifying, but she deserves a bit of sympathy and consideration.

p 169: Some thought, and Gelener said, that there should have been four beasts, to allow them each a quarter. They made do with what they had, and found hunger a very pleasant spice.
Spoken like a true upper-class party. Good grief!

p 230: "If you could love Sher, it's your duty to marry him and make him happy."
Ugh, gag me. No one has a duty to love someone, with very few exceptions.

p 259: Loved Selendra's Lizzie Bennet moment with Sher's mother. Reminded me of our discussions about whether Elizabeth really loved Mr. Darcy or whether she just realized what a good match it was and how satisfying it would be to defy all expectations.

p 264: Much as I like Selendra's Lizzie Bennet qualities, I also really like the moments that make her so different: the narrative admissions of love and affection. Oh, and, "Sher did not take advantage to press her further at that time, although she would no longer have desired to be capable of stopping him"? Yeah. Sher's a keeper, for sure.

p 288: Just as Berend had her moment of--for lack of a better word--humanity, so does Sher's mother. She's clearly set up as a roadblock, but she's like Catherine de Burgh: you laugh at her as much as you dislike her. Except that instead of just threatening never to speak to her again, Sher threatens to serve her for dinner--and it's a very real threat! I'm going treat characters as people for a moment, because I very much want to believe that this is Sher's Avan moment of not realizing how different life is for him, as a male, and for his mother, as a female. I don't want to believe that a character otherwise so surprisingly nice for his station would actually be made to make that threat casually if they were fully aware of its implications. Avan's moment earlier gives me hope.

p 322: "I never wanted to be protected, not by you. We were partners ... That's what I want now, not to be a wife like a thing, to be owned by you, I want to go on being your partner, to make my own decisions."
"It's almost as if I'd be your wife," [he] said, hesitant.
"Why not? Partnership. Two wives sounds as if it would work better than two husbands."
Love this exchange! Not going to give away who it is, but I was glad that I had at least one female character come out as on top as they could have. ( )
  books-n-pickles | Oct 29, 2021 |
Well this was just delightful! A story of betrothals and inheritances, proposals and confessions, social status and disgrace, political and religious intrigue... in a society entirely of dragons.

The main characters are the four grown offspring of a dragon who dies near the beginning of the book: two of the sons are married and established, one is working in the city to try to make his fortune. The two daughters are as yet unmarried, and must therefore be taken in as dependents by their established brothers until they can find husbands -- which will be difficult with small dowries.

While the book deliberately and successfully has the feel of a Jane Austen novel, it also successfully integrates the particular elements of dragon biology and society so as to present a seamless whole.

Its style, like Austen's, is rather understated, so it's not really a book to make one squee, but "delightful" is definitely the right word for it. ( )
  VictoriaGaile | Oct 16, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 83 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Walton, Joprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dolisi, FlorenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elwell, TristanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grossman, HowardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Folio SF (643)
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Epigraph
Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law—
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed—

Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal'd within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match'd with him.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, from
In Memoriam AHH, 1850.
She'd like me to bring a dragon home, I suppose. It would serve her right if I did, some creature that would make the house intolerable to her.

Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage, 1859
Dedication
This is for my aunt, Mary Lace, for coming so far down the road towards fantasy for me, and for coming down so many other roads with me, plenty of them real as well as metaphorical.
First words
Bon Agornin writhed on his deathbed, his wings beating as if he would fly to his new life in his old body.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

A tale of contention over love and money - among dragons. Jo Walton returns with a very different kind of fantasy story: the tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, of a son who goes to law 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. Except that everyone in the story 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 society's high-and-mighty members avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby.

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Book description
A tale of contention over love and money—among dragons

Tooth and Claw

Jo Walton burst onto the fantasy scene with The King's Peace, acclaimed by writers as diverse as Poul Anderson, Robin Hobb, and Ken MacLeod. In 2002, she was voted the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Now Walton returns with a very different kind of fantasy story: the tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, of a son who goes to law 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.

Except that everyone in the story 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 society's high-and-mighty members 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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