tooth and claw – book review

“Jo Walton writes science fiction and fantasy novels and reads a lot and eats great food. It worries her slightly that this is so exactly what she always wanted to do when she grew up. She comes from Wales, but lives in Montreal.”

This is Walton’s biography on Amazon and I think it rather a good one. Walton authored the book I just finished reading, Tooth and Claw, winner of the World Fantasy Fantasy Award. I can’t recall just how I came across this novel but I do know it was very difficult for me to find. Sometimes I take for granted the fact that almost anything can be had on Amazon.com and usually with free shipping. I checked the library, Barnes and Noble, as well as Half Price Books to no avail. The book is about dragons– elemental fantasy characters beloved by role playing gamers and medieval history buffs alike, and famous subjects of fuzzy posters at craft stores worldwide. Yes, those sorts of dragons. I am, however, leaving out one infinitesimal detail here, that being that the dragons in Walton’s novel are Victorian dragons who wear hats in accordance with the customs of high society, try their very best to walk rather than fly to church out of piety, and eat their dead and dying in order to gain strength and grow. The maiden dragons are a gleaming gold until their scales rub up against a sexy man dragon and they immediately “blush” pink (you can imagine the sheer scandal of a pink, unmarried dragon). There are treasure hunts and dowries, lawsuits and fancy balls and even a commentary on the injustice of slavery.

Here’s what Walton said about writing the novel in an interview:

“That one had a rather odd beginning. I was halfway through a Trollope novel when a fantasy that I had ordered came in at the library, so I switched to reading that. Emmet came home from work and asked, ‘How is your book?’, and I said, ‘It’s fine except that it doesn’t understand dragons.’ . . . I said, ‘Oh, Trollope understands dragons perfectly — it’s just that he doesn’t understand people.’ That’s basically the entire concept of Tooth and Claw. It’s got all those things which, when you read a Victorian novel as a modern feminist (or even just a modern person), are quite appalling, and yet the novels are entertaining and kind of cool. I just made it about dragons.”

On the whole, this book is pretty fantastic. Don’t, however, expect a novel storyline. The plot is not complex  (a little formulaic, but in a good way) and it’s a very easy and quick read. It won’t keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will leave you giggling as you imagine oversized reptiles making fruit preserves and shopping for wedding lace. My only complaint is that Walton completely overuses the world “whirl.”  So and so’s eyes whirled, the sky was whirling, the day was in a whirl, etc. etc.  Two thirds into the book it started to really nag at me. I know there are a finite amount of words in the English langage but I don’t find this a worthy excuse in Walton’s case. Of course I’m ignoring the possibility that maybe “whirl” is integral to Victorian diction or something and I’m simly not in the know. One of my biggest pet peeves is repetitive vocabulary. Be more imaginative or invest in a thesaurus or find an OCD editor who plays a lot of Scrabble. Walton has about ten published books but the two I would like to read most are Among Others (which won last year’s Nebula award for Best Novel) and Lifelode, which is described as a domestic fantasy.

Reasons I already like Jo Walton despite the fact that she has an unhealthy attachment to the word “whirl”:

1. As evidenced by her photo below she is obviously super geeky, super awesome, and looks so jovial during this book reading it kills me.

2. She maintains a low internet profile and has no website but rather a livejournal: http://papersky.livejournal.com

3. She writes poems such as this one on said livejournal:

Through the Green Fuse

To know the word mitosis doesn’t help.
You thrust that tiny seed in common dirt
And all you’ve given it is water since,
And here it is, a huge and awesome flower.

Yes, chemistry, say “photosynthesis”,
It isn’t half enough to name the green,
That builds itself from sunlight,
Each complex molecule in fractal time.

All from that pack of seeds, that dream of spring
Add dirt, add water, sunshine…
As everyone who’s ever gardened knows:
It’s clearly fucking magic.

And last but not least, she created International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day in 2007, to encourage authors to put professional quality writing on the net for free.

I wish I could go color this right now:

 

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