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Merle

Merle

Tooth and Claw - Jo Walton This novel has an unusual premise--a quasi-Victorian tale of love, money, and a lawsuit over an inheritance, in which all the characters are dragons--and if you like both fantasy and comedies of manners, and are entertained by the thought of combining the two, you will probably like Tooth and Claw. It’s a short book--only 253 pages in hardcover--but manages to contain an engaging and satisfying story of five dragon siblings trying to make their way in the world.

The best thing about this book is its imaginative development of a highly stratified dragon society, in which all aspects of 19th century novels are taken literally. A “case of consumption” means being eaten by other dragons (a commonplace occurrence), and when the narrator steps out of the tale to address us “gentle readers,” it’s with the hope that we are not in fact “cruel and hungry readers who would visit a publisher’s offices with the intention of rending and eating an author who had displeased them.” It's well-thought-out and humorous, and not without serious touches, such as allusions to the conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

The characters are mostly archetypes, but likeable enough. The writing is fairly good and does a credible job of imitating 19th century prose; it’s not Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (not really a fair comparison, in any case), and it could have used one more read-through by a copyeditor, but the writing fits the subject matter well. While the book took me a little while to get into, I quite enjoyed it and had no serious problems. I criticized Among Others, the only other Walton novel I’ve read, for being too pat; but here I smiled at the expected happy ending.

Overall, this is a fun little fantasy book that deserves more attention than it’s gotten. Even if you aren’t crazy about dragons--don’t worry, I’m not either--it’s worth a shot.

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This is going on the "low magic fantasy" shelf because aside from the fact that everybody's a dragon, there's no magic in it to speak of.