Tooth and Claw is, by its own admission, a modern attempt at writing a Victorian novel. As it opens, the patriarch is dying, and the family have gathered. Soon enough there is a squabble over the inheritance: there’s not much wealth left, and the eldest two children are already established, so the younger three are meant to get the lion’s share to help them out. But the brother-in-law decides he disagrees with the interpretation of the will, and takes more than what the younger son, in particular, thinks is fair. He then begins court proceedings to deal with it. (The blurb on my copy calls this a search for “greedy remuneration,” but I thoroughly disagree with this interpretation.)
The family is gently-born, but with little wealth and a fairly small estate this isn’t overly much use. The younger son is struggling to make his way in the corporate world, and could use all the help he can get. His older brother is established as a parson in a good living, with a fairly generous benefactress, a wife, and some children; the older sister is married, with children and expecting more. The situation is of course most desperate for the two younger sisters. Without significant dowries, attracting suitable (and nice) husbands is going to be more difficult than pleasant… and it’s made more difficult for the older one when an unwanted suitor very nearly ruins her completely.
The story revolves mostly around the three younger siblings, although the older brother gets an occasional look-in. The sisters are parcelled off to their older siblings with hopes of finding suitors or at least not being too much in the way; the younger son goes back to his city life, and the things he’d rather his family not talk about.
… all right, all right. Those in the know are amused and eye-roll-y by this stage, everyone else is confused.
Everything I’ve written so far is true. But all of the characters? They’re dragons.
Yes. Dragons. Scales, claws, eating raw meat, flying, concerned about polishing their scales, sleeping on gold, breathing fire if they’re lucky, dragons. And it works. Walton takes some of the ideas of the Victorian novel and makes them real; her take on the blushing bride is brilliant. Her vision of menial dragons is perhaps the most shocking aspect – that their wings are tied down, such that they can never fly. This is a wonderful visual of the reality of life for many ‘in service’.
Also, dragons eat each other.
This is a great, fun story. It’s light-hearted overall with a serious social message (a few, really; perhaps closer to Gaskell than Austen?). The characters are approachable, the plot plays out nicely – it’s a delight to read.