29 October 2014

To Eat Your Own: A Review of Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton

It would be remiss of me not to review at least one book this year about dragons. Late to the Jo Walton party, having only earlier this year discovered her acclaimed novel Among Others, I have spent the rest of 2014 reading through her catalog of work. I should say, most of, a voracious contributor to Tor, Walton recently published a collection of blog posts she wrote for the site that at this point in my life is of no interest to me. I know rather crappy of me, being a blogger, not reading other blog posts but Walton's talents for composing a tale is far more exciting than her opinions. Funny how fickle we are as readers, although my adoration for Herbert is a little past the ridiculous, I have not read nor interested in reading any of his other books. Please do not chastise me, in my defence I am what I am when it comes to my reading pursuits and at the best of times it makes little to no logical sense. My husband to this day has yet to resolve to the fact that he married someone who spent the holidays of 2004 happily reading a 800 bound, brooding, dark biography on the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen

What can I say, the playwright not only is fascinating but a relative. One should always keep up with the goings-on with family, you never know what aspect to your character is genetic instead of that 'odd thing you tend to do'.  Thus it is so with the dragons in Tooth and Claw. Tooth and Claw, an earlier work of Walton's which not surprisingly won the World Fantasy Book award the year of it's release is about dragons eating each other. I kid you not, as I have literally stolen that which Walton herself has opened her summation of the conception of Tooth and Claw. Click here if you missed the last link to Jo's site where she talks about herself. You know folks, all my links have a purpose, okay maybe not this link, but most do. 

Apparently, Tooth and Claw has been stylistically compared to Jane Austen if Jane were to interpose her humans with dragons. Walton insists that there is little to no Austen in it and rather the inception is thanks to Trollope. Having not read any Trollope, a travesty that must be addressed, I cannot attest to that, but since authors know best when it comes to their own work, I would be inclined to agree. 


Beyond the Victorian sensibilities, what I did manage to discern was that the world-building was multi-layered, complex and wonderfully disturbing. No society is without it's tragic flaws. Walton's dragons have a habit of consuming each other; so much that Church and State have strong dictates of what is considered lawful and/or sinful. The climax of the novel is the civil suit against the son-in-law of a patriarch dragon who is deemed to have eaten too much of his dead father-in-law. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to type that sentence out! Can you imagine how hilarious it was to actually write this book?  Not that this book is funny, it is not at all, taking itself as seriously as any upper-class English nobility from the 19th century would have tended to do. Tooth and Claw is brimming with simply glorious teeny tiny details that entertained me to no end. I love when the tried and true version of fantasy or myth are reinvented or simply explored more thoroughly resulting in an almost anthropological study. 

I highly recommend this book simply for the sheer pleasure of discovering what is deemed an acceptable amount of dead dragon that a son, daughter and son-in-law are allowed to eat.