Tooth and Claw

Jo Walton
Tooth and Claw Cover

Tooth and Claw


The popularity of novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina made me weary of picking this one up. I mean, Pride and Prejudice but with dragons? Really? I'm glad to have been wrong about this one, although it didn't live up to full expectations.

The world Walton has created is interesting, mixing Victorian ideals (is this a trend these days?) with social commentary on class, gender and slavery. The story is a mix of different points of view, as it follows the four Agornin children (Avan, Penn, Selendra and Haner) in the wake of their father's death. When they feel that their brother in law Daverak slights them, it tears the family apart and pits brother against sister.

I liked it, for a while. The concepts were interesting enough, but there's something that didn't quite leave me grasping for more. The characters, to a certain extent, are exactly as they would be in a 19th century novel: you have the haughty aristocratic woman, the mysterious heir, fallen from grace, the scheming rich family, the country priest vs the lascivious country priest... This isn't a failing of Walton's and indeed I'm 99% sure it's deliberate, but there is something that didn't quite do it for me. At times, I felt like I was reading Dickens (for me, this is usually not a good sign).

That being said, her use of language is stunning. There are some great turns of phrase here, and the ideas that are presented are engaging and interesting enough. I feel that at times, she is actively mocking her own characters (the final words of the novel certainly indicate this), and I can't exactly fault her for it, because I'm pretty sure they're, for the most part, not entirely "nice" or "good" themselves. The hint that this could be a sort of alternate history of Earth is there, but not really explored that much -- perhaps leaving room for a sequel, or another book set in this universe?

Ultimately, I enjoyed this one, but it was nothing to write home about. I've heard much better things about Among Others, so perhaps I will enjoy that one more.