October 5, 2006

Tooth and Claw

by Jo Walton

Jo Walton tackles the guilty pleasures of the Victorian sentimental novel, the charming and ever-popular tradition that runs from Austen to Galsworthy. These novels are all about sex and money, but the way characters behave about sex and money are unreal. Walton addresses the problem by creating a richly-imagined world in which the conventions are real and biologically necessary. Her Victorians are dragons. They need money: the only really comfortable bed is a bed of gold. Landowners need to exploit their tenants, because landowners are entitled to eat weak hatchlings of their tenant farmers and dragons can only grow by eating dragonflesh. Dragon maidens need to be very careful around men, because a few minutes alone with a male will make a golden maiden blush -- that is, it will turn her permanently pink, and no one will marry a pink dragon unless she's pink because she's already betrothed to him.

And so we have a rolicking good time with balls and assignations, duels and mothers-in-law, titles and livings, all captured with pitch-perfect tone and adapted to a world in which the conventions are not a facade for Society but, quite simply, the way things are.