Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tooth and Claw (Jo Walton)

One of the best things I love about reading is when I encounter a book that is so unexpected in approach and tone. Although it may tackle familiar themes of love and courtship, class equality, revenge, and moral obligation, Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw explores them through a different lens, creating a truly remarkable and entertaining reading experience.

Jane Yolen sums it up quite accurately when she calls it 'the Pride and Prejudice of the dragon world.' In this story, the Dignified Bon Agornin dies, leaving his gold, property, and body for his family. The consumption of dragonflesh strengthens dragons and Bon's eldest son Penn, a parson, understands that his three younger siblings would need their father's body. But when his wealthy brother-in-law takes more than his share, this sets in motion events that will have heavy consequences on the mourning family. The tale follows the Agornin siblings: Penn, who is struggling with the repercussions of hearing his father's deathbed confession; ambitious Avan, who wants what is rightfully his; Selendra, whose brush with an unwanted suitor may have ended her chances for a favorable marriage; and Haner, who is witness to the many injustices within her brother-in-law's household.

I half-expected to read about dragons upright and human-sized. But Ms Walton never let us forget draconian anatomy and physiology (or at least as we have imagined them through the centuries). In fact, she utilizes certain physical characteristics to set the conventions of her particular world. For instance: dragon maidens have golden scales that will blush pink or red when a male dragon is too near, thus making the loss of the virtue an untenable disgrace. Another characteristic worth noting is that those who are in service have bound wings. Dragon-servants are all required to have bound wings, though some families allow for looser bindings for those they have grown to trust. Parsons too, like Penn, are required to bind their wings. With circumstances like this defining Tiamath society, it is hard to imagine the characters as anything less than their glorious, natural states.

Still, it works. Despite the strangeness of the circumstances, the book dives into the issues that divide a family and a society. I was more drawn to the female dragons' plights (Selendra and the intricacies of her courtship and Haner with her changing views), though that doesn't mean that the male dragons' stories are any less exciting. I just wish I could have read more about Haner and the abolition movement, which I thought was an important theme but was not as thoroughly explored as Avan's lawsuit and political pressures. Ms Walton's world was just that rich that I kept on wanting more even when I reached the final page.

I've been eager to read this since I saw a review on io9 many years ago, but it kept on slipping my mind. I finally got a copy from Celina's Books and Magazines, and I couldn't put it down. It was an amazing read from start to finish -- delightful, layered, and distinct.


Osing said...

Interesting. From the way you've described it, I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this yet. Gusto kong basahin hehe.

dementedchris said...

I'll definitely lend it to you next time. It's the one I'm most excited to lend to you but I wanted to keep it with me a few days more in case there's a detail I missed. :P

Tin said...

P&P of the dragon world? I am intrigued! This seems like a strangely wonderful book and I have to add it on my list. I have heard of Walton's Among Others but not this one. :)

dementedchris said...

I hope you find a copy and that you'll enjoy it! I have a feeling you'll like it :D