Benjamin's Reviews > Tooth and Claw

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
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Jan 19, 12

bookshelves: bedside-reading

Tooth and Claw is the Victorian comedy of manners... with dragons! (Oh, when will someone write the Victorian comedy of manners... in space!)

I started this a month ago or so--whenever I finished Trollope's Framley Parsonage, which is the foundation novel of this--but soon put it down as unsatisfying in some way. Was it because the plot seemed so similar to Trollope's? Yes, in part (more fool me for reading the Trollope first), though what actually sunk it at first for me was that the characters were almost as broad as Trollope's.

I enjoyed some of the world-building issues here having to do with Victorian dragons--those without protection get eaten, a rather literal distillation of the violence implicit in the Victorian system. ("Help, help, I'm being repressed.")

But in practice, I felt somewhat let down by the main through-line of the novel; no surprise to note that a comedy of manners is concluded in happy marriages for all, but did it have to be so "we found treasure and now can get married!" happy?

More interesting for me, as usual, were the embroidered edges: dragons rule after ousting a human, machine-aided conquest and now dragons have some machine (like trains)--but do they have other technological and scientific advances? And female dragons have hands rather than claws, so it stands to reason that most experimental scientists would be women dragons in this world--I wish I had read the mashup between "Victorian dragons" and Wells's woman-can-be-scientists novel Ann Veronica.
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Wealhtheow What I loved most was the "literal distillation"s of Victorian society--how those with best legal claim eat the dead in order to get stronger, or how female dragons change color after proximity to an unrelated male. In old-timey novels, the social mores and rules that characters' lives are run and ruined by are so clearly socially constructed that characters can seem priggish or even stupid for clinging to them so tightly. Transforming social stigma or acclaim into tangible effects made the rules seem a bit less silly and easily got-around.

That said, I do have to agree that the characters didn't really stick with me--except for the red female dragon, who I really liked for being such a successful twist on Lily Bart.


message 2: by Benjamin (new) - added it

Benjamin Oh, I was just talking to a friend about rethinking "House of Mirth" as a YA teen dystopia--which it might already be, actually. Wharton: always one step ahead of me.

But I hadn't thought about Dragon-Lily Bart connection. I don't want to see a straight Wharton w/ Monsters rewrite (as with Austen). But you're right, the biological/supernatural rules make it easier for today's audience to understand the historical mores.

Or at least, when I read Trollope, part of me couldn't help treating it like a horror movie--I was just yelling at the characters "Don't open that door" or "Just do X" where X was something totally unthinkable by them.


Wealhtheow Haha, when I read Trollope I was so furious with him that only half my attention was actually given to the characters themselves. (Although how relieved was I when Glencora didn't marry that gambling romantic churl? So, so relieved.) I've read my fair share of Victorian novels, but his were the ones that most notably took the time's moral system to an insane extreme. The very titles of his books make me want to go back in time and slap him.


Elizabeth A Civil Campaign:A Comedy of Biology and Manners by Lois McMaster Bujold.
( in case you or anyone was still seeking comedy of manners--IN SPAAAACE)


message 5: by Benjamin (last edited Jul 23, 2014 08:39PM) (new) - added it

Benjamin Elizabeth wrote: "A Civil Campaign:A Comedy of Biology and Manners by Lois McMaster Bujold.
( in case you or anyone was still seeking comedy of manners--IN SPAAAACE)"


Oh, Bujold is definitely on my list, but I'll bump this one up--and thanks for the recommendation. I think her most recent book--Captain Vorpatril's Alliance--has been recommended to me as screwball comedy in space (iirc).


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