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 the great and the good 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.
Family patriarch Bon Agornin is dying, and his surviving children are gathered at his deathbed. There is the cleric Penn, the married and self-satisfied elder sister Berend, the younger brother Avan, making his way in the world, and two younger sisters (Selendra and Haner) still living at home. Their father’s death and bequests will change their comfortable world completely, and each of these dragons will find the future a rather dangerous unknown.
Others have described this book as Jane Austen, but with dragons. I agree to a point. Walton meticulously describes the familial scene and conflicts, within a larger, hierarchical society influenced by politics, connections, and acting in accordance with propriety and tradition. However, Walton is not winking at the reader with caricatures from her own time as Austen did. She’s taken the tropes of the Victorian novel and changed the essential biology and beings in play, making for a complex, wryly funny mash-up of genre. It’s all beautifully written, too – I couldn’t put the book down. Oh, and it’s just fun!
Of course, it’s not all ideas and power struggles – there’s a great story, too, with bits and pieces from different locations interweaving into a whole. The action follows the siblings as they leave their father’s home, but there’s more focus on Selendra’s story arc than the others’, and her course is full of treasure, romance, close escapes and spirit. I fell in love with most of the characters, but Selendra was my favorite (as she’s meant to be). I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that the reader is left satisfied at the end, as anyone reading a proper Austen novel would be, though there are moments when you can’t see how it’ll turn out right.
In all, Tooth and Claw is a clever, entertaining, and elegant little fantasy novel, and it fit this reader perfectly. It’ll definitely be on my ‘best of 2013’ list at the end of the year. Many thanks to The Book Smugglers for the recommendation!