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Tooth and Claw    by Jo Walton order for
Tooth and Claw
by Jo Walton
Order:  USA  Can
Orb, 2009 (2003)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw is very different from her other fantasies (such as The King's Name and her brilliant Farthing series) in that, though it has the flavor of a Jane Austen novel, almost all her characters are dragons, who do actually - and fairly casually - eat each other (and in so doing increase in length, strength and societal power).

The story opens on the death of patriarch Bon Agornin as he lies on his gold hoard in an undercave, attended by his parson son Penn. He leaves four other surviving children - Berend (whose dowry depleted the family hoard) married to the Illustrious Daverak; Avan who works in the Office for the Planning and Beautification of Irieth and has a liaison with Sebeth (who has an interesting history); and two unwed daughters, Haner and Selendra, who are very close. Bon insists on making his confession to Penn and asks for absolution - which the Church does not allow, but Penn risks much by doing as his father requests.

But the real trouble begins when it's time to divvy up the remains for dinner. Daverak insists on taking a greater share for his family's ingestion than Bon had intended and the local cleric, Blessed Frelt, supports him in so doing, creating bad feeling in the family and leading Avan to plan a lawsuit. Next Frelt improperly approaches Selendra closely enough to turn her coat from gold to a compromising pink. To avoid staying pink (hence no longer a maiden) Selendra takes a potion provided by their old nanny Amer, which unfortunately has side effects.

The sisters are separated, Selendra journeying home with Penn, and Haner living with Berend and her family at Daverak (where she's shocked by the callous way servants and tenants are treated). Selendra's situation is more pleasant. She gets on well with Penn's wife Felin and is attracted by the local nobleman, Sher, who reciprocates, despite the animosity of his mother (whose behavior calls to mind Lady Catherine de Bourgh's in Pride and Prejudice). After adventures and encounters, a minor tragedy, a reconciliation and a duel, all is resolved in a most satisfying ending worthy of Austen, complete with 'the comfort of gentle hypocrisy'.

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