"Tooth And Claw" Proves That Dragons Trump Zombies

Everybody thinks that Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a nifty new mash-up invention. But the the original monster mash-up book was Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw, a 19th century novel of manners, with dragon protagonists.

Walton published Tooth And Claw several years ago – long before the current craze for monsters in drawing rooms. She won the World Fantasy Award for it, and you can see why. She manages to lampoon the novel of manners while also telling a surprisingly engaging story about the domestic lives of dragons in a world of steam trains, fashionable hats, and legal squabbles over inheritance.

The kicker is that Walton makes all the psychological tics of the Victorians into biological facts for dragons. The Victorians fought – often very politely – over inheritance money because they needed it to survive. In dragon society, you cannot grow bigger without eating the dead bodies of other dragons. Part of your inheritance is a sizable portion of your parent. And wealthy landowners can choose to eat the bodies of their dead servants if they want. Servants, of course, don't get to eat very many dead dragons at all. So they remain small, while the wealthy grow large and dangerous.

And female dragons wear their chastity literally on their sleeves. If a male dragon gives them romantic attention, or presses his body against them, their golden maiden scales blush a bright pink. So everyone knows who the fallen women are, based on their coloration. It doesn't help that men can force women to blush just by "crowding" them.

Influenced by Victorian writer Anthony Trollope, Tooth And Claw is about the fate of two sisters whose father dies before they are married off. They cannot inherit his caverns, and he's left them almost no money. One goes to live with their married sister, whose husband is a cruel land owner who eats the children of his servants. The other goes to live with their brother, a pastor and new husband who lives in the caves of a very wealthy woman whose son takes a shine to her.

Walton manages to translate Victorian details into dragon life, commenting on what is fashionable in cave decoration and describing the dangerous machinations of dragon bureaucrats. There's even a Middlemarch-esque subplot where one of the sisters gets involved with a movement to better the lives of the poor. And of course it's a romance – even dragons get a happy ending.

The best part about Tooth And Claw is that it isn't just a simple parody. Certainly it is very witty, but it is also a fascinating thought experiment in which the most savage creatures of our imagination turn out to be the very best society that 19th century civilization has to offer.

Tooth And Claw via Amazon